Tag Archives: entertainment

The Golden Age of TV: Trailer Park Boys

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I have noticed that critics of our pop culture seem to agree that we are in a second golden age of television in the United States (and elsewhere). It’s a period beginning in the late 1990s, and stretching to the present day, marked by the production of a significant number of critically and internationally acclaimed programs. The original golden age of television spanned the late 1940s and early 50s (e.g., Kraft Television Theater, Four Star Playhouse, The Clock, Alfred Hitchcock Presents).

I’m not much of a TV watcher so my credentials are somewhat dubious. But, I must weigh in to set the record straight on our current golden age. To be precise, it began in Canada on April 22, 2001, and to a fashion, continues to this day.

You see, on April 22, 2001, the CBC (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) aired “Take Your Little Gun and Get Out of My Trailer Park“, the first episode of the first season of Trailer Park Boys.

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I first stumbled across Trailer Park Boys on BBC America while channel surfing in 2004 (I know, 3 years late!). Unfamiliar? Trailer Park Boys (TPB) is a now legendary Canadian mockumentary comedy chronicling the (mis-)adventures of Julian, Ricky and Bubbles, and other colorful residents of fictitious Sunnyvale Trailer Park in Nova Scotia. The show now in its 11th season is a booze and pot-fueled catalog of vulgar, outrageous hare-brained silliness.

I love it. To date I have never laughed so much while watching TV. Luckily for me, and other fans, the show and related movies are now available on Netflix.

So, long may the real golden age of TV continue complete with Bubble’s kitties, Julian and Ricky’s get-rich-quick schemes, Randy’s stomach, Mr.Lahey, Cyrus the nutter, J-Roc, rum-and-coke, Tyrone, Lucy, Officer Green, Trinity, shopping carts and the rest of the madcap bunch.

Image 1: Trailer Park Boys screenshot. Courtesy of Swearnet.

Image 2 courtesy of Google Search.

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Ideological Entertainment

Vermont_state_fair_barker_bwEver wondered what really fuels the right-wingers in the media. Is it genuine, hard-felt belief — however unpalatable those beliefs may be to the mainstream — or is it about cold, hard cash and puerile attention seeking?

The cynic in mean tends to agree with Michael Gerson’s op/ed, that much of the conservative media vitriol makes for good clickbait. So, where does this leave the true citizen-believers? Well, to the media carnival barkers they are just gormless marks to be had at the freakshow. It’s ideaological entertainment folks!

You decide.

From the Washington Post:

Of the 2016 election’s lightning storm of shocks, few will have more lasting political consequence than the discrediting of the main media organs of movement conservatism.

Fox News — the “fair and balanced” alternative to the liberal media, the voice of traditional values, the never-ceasing hum in the background of American conservatism — has been revealed as the personal fiefdom of a Donald Trump shill and as an institution apparently operating (according to one lawsuit) “like a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency and misogyny.” While Fox News is not going away, it will need to be relaunched and rebranded as the network of Bret Baier and Megyn Kelly (both fine journalists), rather than of angry white television personalities who employ perpetual outrage as a business model.

Speaking of which, a similar unveiling has occurred with the right’s defining radio personality, Rush Limbaugh. It is difficult to overestimate Limbaugh’s influence on two generations of intensely loyal listeners. Steve Forbes has called him “part of the trinity that made modern conservatism,” in the company of Ronald Reagan and William F. Buckley.

In this campaign cycle, Limbaugh fully embraced right-wing populism, including defending Trump’s hard line on immigration and mass deportation — a position Limbaugh once described as “standing up for the American way of life.” During the recent six-day period in which Trump moderated his immigration stand and essentially embraced Jeb Bush’s views, Limbaugh fielded a call from “Rick in Los Angeles,” who was angry at Trump for adopting a position he had savaged other Republicans for holding. “This is going to enrage you,” Limbaugh replied. “I can choose a path here to try to mollify you. I never took him seriously on this.”

It is an admission of astounding cynicism.

Read the full op/ed here.

Image: Barker at the Vermont State Fair, 1941. Courtesy: Jack Delano, photographer. United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division. Public Domain.

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Clowns, Ducks and Dancing Girls

OK, OK. I’ve had to break my own rule (again). You know, the one that states that I’m not supposed to write about politics. The subject is far too divisive, I’m told. However, as a US-based, Brit and hence a somewhat removed observer — though I can actually vote — I cannot stay on the sidelines.

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For US politics and its never-ending election season is a process that must be observed, studied, dissected and savored. After all, it’s not really politics — it’s a hysterically entertaining reality TV show complete with dancing girls, duck hunting, character assassination, clowns, demagogues, guns, hypocrisy, plaid shirts, lies and so much more. Best of all, there are no policies or substantive ideas of any kind; just pure entertainment. Netflix should buy the exclusive rights!

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Image, top: Phil Robertson, star of the Duck Dynasty reality TV show, says Cruz is the man for the job because he is godly, loves America, and is willing to kill a duck to make gumbo soup. Courtesy of the Guardian.

Image, bottom, Political rally for Donald Trump featuring gyrating dancing girls and warnings to the “enemy”. Courtesy of Fox News.

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Marketing of McGod

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Many churches now have their own cool logos. All of the large or mega-churches have their own well-defined brands and well-oiled marketing departments. Clearly, God is not doing enough to disseminate his (or her) message — God needs help from ad agencies and marketing departments. Modern day evangelism is not only a big business, it’s now a formalized business process, with key objectives, market share drivers, growth strategies, metrics and key performance indicators (KPI) — just like any other corporate franchise.

But some Christians believe that there is more (or, actually, less) to their faith than neo-evangelical brands like Vine, Gather, Vertical or Prime. So, some are shunning these houses of “worshipfotainment” [my invention, dear reader] with high-production values and edgy programming; they are forgoing mega-screens with Jesus-powerpoint and heavenly lasers, lattes in the lobby and hip Christian metal. A millennial tells his story of disillusionment with the McChurch — its evangelical shallowness and exclusiveness.

From the Washington Post:

Bass reverberates through the auditorium floor as a heavily bearded worship leader pauses to invite the congregation, bathed in the light of two giant screens, to tweet using #JesusLives. The scent of freshly brewed coffee wafts in from the lobby, where you can order macchiatos and purchase mugs boasting a sleek church logo. The chairs are comfortable, and the music sounds like something from the top of the charts. At the end of the service, someone will win an iPad.

This, in the view of many churches, is what millennials like me want. And no wonder pastors think so. Church attendance has plummeted among young adults. In the United States, 59 percent of people ages 18 to 29 with a Christian background have, at some point, dropped out. According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, among those of us who came of age around the year 2000, a solid quarter claim no religious affiliation at all, making my generation significantly more disconnected from faith than members of Generation X were at a comparable point in their lives and twice as detached as baby boomers were as young adults.

In response, many churches have sought to lure millennials back by focusing on style points: cooler bands, hipper worship, edgier programming, impressive technology. Yet while these aren’t inherently bad ideas and might in some cases be effective, they are not the key to drawing millennials back to God in a lasting and meaningful way. Young people don’t simply want a better show. And trying to be cool might be making things worse.

 You’re just as likely to hear the words “market share” and “branding” in church staff meetings these days as you are in any corporate office. Megachurches such as Saddleback in Lake Forest, Calif., and Lakewood in Houston have entire marketing departments devoted to enticing new members. Kent Shaffer of ChurchRelevance.com routinely ranks the best logos and Web sites and offers strategic counsel to organizations like Saddleback and LifeChurch.tv.

Increasingly, churches offer sermon series on iTunes and concert-style worship services with names like “Vine” or “Gather.” The young-adult group at Ed Young’s Dallas-based Fellowship Church is called Prime, and one of the singles groups at his father’s congregation in Houston is called Vertical. Churches have made news in recent years for giving away tablet computers , TVs and even cars at Easter. Still, attendance among young people remains flat.

Recent research from Barna Group and the Cornerstone Knowledge Network found that 67 percent of millennials prefer a “classic” church over a “trendy” one, and 77 percent would choose a “sanctuary” over an “auditorium.” While we have yet to warm to the word “traditional” (only 40 percent favor it over “modern”), millennials exhibit an increasing aversion to exclusive, closed-minded religious communities masquerading as the hip new places in town. For a generation bombarded with advertising and sales pitches, and for whom the charge of “inauthentic” is as cutting an insult as any, church rebranding efforts can actually backfire, especially when young people sense that there is more emphasis on marketing Jesus than actually following Him. Millennials “are not disillusioned with tradition; they are frustrated with slick or shallow expressions of religion,” argues David Kinnaman, who interviewed hundreds of them for Barna Group and compiled his research in “You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church .?.?. and Rethinking Faith.”

My friend and blogger Amy Peterson put it this way: “I want a service that is not sensational, flashy, or particularly ‘relevant.’ I can be entertained anywhere. At church, I do not want to be entertained. I do not want to be the target of anyone’s marketing. I want to be asked to participate in the life of an ancient-future community.”

Millennial blogger Ben Irwin wrote: “When a church tells me how I should feel (‘Clap if you’re excited about Jesus!’), it smacks of inauthenticity. Sometimes I don’t feel like clapping. Sometimes I need to worship in the midst of my brokenness and confusion — not in spite of it and certainly not in denial of it.”

When I left church at age 29, full of doubt and disillusionment, I wasn’t looking for a better-produced Christianity. I was looking for a truer Christianity, a more authentic Christianity: I didn’t like how gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people were being treated by my evangelical faith community. I had questions about science and faith, biblical interpretation and theology. I felt lonely in my doubts. And, contrary to popular belief, the fog machines and light shows at those slick evangelical conferences didn’t make things better for me. They made the whole endeavor feel shallow, forced and fake.

Read the entire story here.

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Expanding Binge Culture

The framers of the U.S. Declaration of Independence could not have known. They could not have foreseen how commoditization, consumerism, globalisation and always-on media culture would come to transform our culture. They did well to insert “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”.

But they failed to consider our collective evolution — if you would wish to denote it as such — towards a sophisticated culture of binge. Significant numbers of us have long binged on physical goods, money, natural resources, food and drink. However, media has lagged, somewhat. But no longer. Now we have at our instantaneous whim entire libraries of all-you-can-eat infotainment. Time will tell if this signals the demise of quality, as it gets replaced with overwhelming quantity. One area shows where we may be heading — witness the “fastfoodification” of our news.

From NYT:

When Beyoncé released, without warning, 17 videos around midnight on Dec. 13, millions of fans rejoiced. As a more casual listener of Ms. Knowles, I balked at the onslaught of new material and watched a few videos before throwing in the towel.

Likewise, when Netflix, in one fell swoop, made complete seasons of “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black” available for streaming, I quailed at the challenge, though countless others happily immersed themselves in their worlds of Washington intrigue and incarcerated women.

Then there is the news, to which floodgates are now fully open thanks to the Internet and cable TV: Flight 370, Putin, Chris Christie, Edward Snowden, Rob Ford, Obamacare, “Duck Dynasty,” “bossy,” #CancelColbert, conscious uncoupling. When presented with 24/7 coverage of these ongoing narratives from an assortment of channels — traditional journalism sites, my Facebook feed, the log-out screen of my email — I followed some closely and very consciously uncoupled from others.

Had these content providers released their offerings in the old-media landscape, à la carte rather than in an all-you-can-eat buffet, the prospect of a seven-course meal might not have seemed so daunting. I could handle a steady drip of one article a day about Mr. Ford in a newspaper. But after two dozen, updated every 10 minutes, plus scores of tweets, videos and GIFs that keep on giving, I wanted to forget altogether about Toronto’s embattled mayor.

While media technology is now catching up to Americans’ penchant for overdoing it and finding plenty of willing indulgers, there are also those like me who recoil from the abundance of binge culture.

In the last decade, media entertainment has given far more freedom to consumers: watch, listen to and read anything at anytime. But Barry Schwartz’s 2004 book, “The Paradox of Choice,” argues that our surfeit of consumer choices engenders anxiety, not satisfaction, and sometimes even a kind of paralysis.

His thesis (which has its dissenters) applies mostly to the profusion of options within a single set: for instance, the challenge of picking out salad dressing from 175 varieties in a supermarket. Nevertheless, it is also germane to the concept of bingeing, when 62 episodes of “Breaking Bad” wait overwhelmingly in a row like bottles of Newman’s Own on a shelf.

Alex Quinlan, 31, a first-year Ph.D. student in poetry at Florida State University, said he used to spend at least an hour every morning reading the news and “putting off my responsibilities,” as well as binge-watching shows. He is busier now, and last fall had trouble installing an Internet connection in his home, which effectively “rewired my media-consumption habits,” he said. “I’m a lot more disciplined. Last night I watched one episode of ‘House of Cards’ and went to bed. A year ago, I probably would’ve watched one, gotten another beer, then watched two more.”

Even shorter-term bingeing can seem like a major commitment, because there is a distorting effect of receiving a large chunk of content at once rather than getting it piecemeal. To watch one Beyoncé video a week would eat as much time as watching all in one day, but their unified dissemination makes them seem intimidatingly movie-length (which they are, approximately) rather than like a series of four-minute clips.

I also experienced some first-world anxiety last year with the release of the fourth season of “Arrested Development.” I had devoured the show’s first three seasons, parceled out in 22-minute weekly installments on Fox as well as on DVD, where I would watch episodes I had already seen (in pre-streaming days, binge-watching required renting or owning a copy, which was more like a contained feast). But when Netflix uploaded 15 new episodes totaling 8.5 hours on May 26, I was not among those queuing up for it. It took me some time to get around to the show, and once I had started, the knowledge of how many episodes stretched in front of me, at my disposal whenever I wanted, proved off-putting.

This despite the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses quality to binge-viewing. If everyone is quickly exhausting every new episode of a show, and writing and talking about it the next day, it’s easy to feel left out of the conversation if you haven’t kept pace. And sometimes when you’re late to the party, you decide to stay home instead.

Because we frequently gorge when left to our own Wi-Fi-enabled devices, the antiquated methods of “scheduling our information consumption” may have been healthier, if less convenient, said Clay Johnson, 36, the author of “The Information Diet.” He recalled rushing home after choir practice when he was younger to catch “Northern Exposure” on TV.

“That idea is now preposterous,” he said. “We don’t have appointment television anymore. Just because we can watch something all the time doesn’t mean we should. Maybe we should schedule it in a way that makes sense around our daily lives.”

“It’s a lot like food,” he added. “You see some people become info-anorexic, who say the answer is to unplug and not consume anything. Much like an eating disorder, it’s just as unhealthy a decision as binge-watching the news and media. There’s a middle ground of people who are saying, ‘I need to start treating this form of input in my life like a conscious decision and to be informed in the right way.’ ”

Read the entire story here.

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Content Versus Innovation

VHS-cassetteThe entertainment and media industry is not known for its innovation. Left to its own devices we would all be consuming news from broadsheets and a town crier, and digesting shows at the theater. Not too long ago the industry, led by Hollywood heavyweights, was doing its utmost to kill emerging forms of media consumption, such as the video tape cassette and the VCR.

Following numerous regulatory, legal and political skirmishes innovation finally triumphed over entrenched interests, allowing VHS tape, followed by the DVD, to flourish, albeit for a while. This of course paved the way for new forms of distribution — the rise of Blockbuster and a myriad of neighborhood video rental stores.

In a great ironic twist, the likes of Blockbuster failed to recognize signals from the market that without significant and continual innovation their business models would subsequently crumble. Now Netflix and other streaming services have managed to end our weekend visits to the movie rental store.

A fascinating article excerpted below takes a look back at the lengthy, and continuing, fight between the conservative media empires and the market’s constant pull from technological innovation.

[For a fresh perspective on the future of media distribution, see our recent posting here.]

From TechCrunch:

The once iconic video rental giant Blockbuster is shutting down its remaining stores across the country. Netflix, meanwhile, is emerging as the leader in video rental, now primarily through online streaming. But Blockbuster, Netflix and home media consumption (VCR/DVD/Blu-ray) may never have existed at all in their current form if the content industry had been successful in banning or regulating them. In 1983, nearly 30 years before thousands of websites blacked out in protest of SOPA/PIPA, video stores across the country closed in protest against legislation that would bar their market model.

A Look Back

In 1977, the first video-rental store opened. It was 600 square feet and located on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. George Atkinson, the entrepreneur who decided to launch this idea, charged $50 for an “annual membership” and $100 for a “lifetime membership” but the memberships only allowed people to rent videos for $10 a day. Despite an unusual business model, Atkinson’s store was an enormous success, growing to 42 affiliated stores in fewer than 20 months and resulting in numerous competitors.

In retrospect, Atkinson’s success represented the emergence of an entirely new market: home consumption of paid content. It would become an $18 billion dollar domestic market, and, rather than cannibalize from the existing movie theater market, it would eclipse it and thereby become a massive revenue source for the industry.

Atkinson’s success in 1977 is particularly remarkable as the Sony Betamax (the first VCR) had only gone on sale domestically in 1975 at a cost of $1,400 (which in 2013 U.S. dollars is $6,093). As a comparison, the first DVD player in 1997 cost $1,458 in 2013 dollars and the first Blu-ray player in 2006 cost $1,161 in 2013 dollars. And unlike the DVD and Blu-ray player, it would take eight years, until 1983, for the VCR to reach 10 percent of U.S. television households. Atkinson’s success, and that of his early competitors, was in catering to a market of well under 10 percent of U.S. households.

While many content companies realized this as a massive new revenue stream — e.g. 20th Century Fox buying one video rental company for $7.5 million in 1979 — the content industry lawyers and lobbyists tried to stop the home content market through litigation and regulation.

The content industry sued to ban the sale of the Betamax, the first VCR. This legal strategy was coupled by leveraging the overwhelming firepower of the content industry in Washington. If they lost in court to ban the technology and rental business model, then they would ban the technology and rental business model in Congress.

Litigation Attack

In 1976, the content industry filed suit against Sony, seeking an injunction to prevent the company from “manufacturing, distributing, selling or offering for sale Betamax or Betamax tapes.” Essentially granting this remedy would have banned the VCR for all Americans. The content industry’s motivation behind this suit was largely to deal with individuals recording live television, but the emergence of the rental industry was likely a contributing factor.

While Sony won at the district court level in 1979, in 1981 it lost at the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit where the court found that Sony was liable for copyright infringement by their users — recording broadcast television. The Appellate court ordered the lower court to impose an appropriate remedy, advising in favor of an injunction to block the sale of the Betamax.

And in 1981, under normal circumstances, the VCR would have been banned then and there. Sony faced liability well beyond its net worth, so it may well have been the end of Sony, or at least its U.S. subsidiary, and the end of the VCR. Millions of private citizens could have been liable for damages for copyright infringement for recording television shows for personal use. But Sony appealed this ruling to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court is able to take very few cases. For example in 2009, 1.1 percent of petitions for certiorari were granted, and of these approximately 70 percent are cases where there is a conflict among different courts (here there was no conflict). But in 1982, the Supreme Court granted certiorari and agreed to hear the case.

After an oral hearing, the justices took a vote internally, and originally only one of them was persuaded to keep the VCR as legal (but after discussion, the number of justices in favor of the VCR would eventually increase to four).

With five votes in favor of affirming the previous ruling the Betamax (VCR) was to be illegal in the United States (see Justice Blackmun’s papers).

But then, something even more unusual happened – which is why we have the VCR and subsequent technologies: The Supreme Court decided for both sides to re-argue a portion of the case. Under the Burger Court (when he was Chief Justice), this only happened in 2.6 percent of the cases that received oral argument. In the re-argument of the case, a crucial vote switched sides, which resulted in a 5-4 decision in favor of Sony. The VCR was legal. There would be no injunction barring its sale.

The majority opinion characterized the lawsuit as an “unprecedented attempt to impose copyright liability upon the distributors of copying equipment and rejected “[s]uch an expansion of the copyright privilege” as “beyond the limits” given by Congress. The Court even cited Mr. Rogers who testified during the trial:

I have always felt that with the advent of all of this new technology that allows people to tape the ‘Neighborhood’ off-the-air . . . Very frankly, I am opposed to people being programmed by others.

On the absolute narrowest of legal grounds, through a highly unusual legal process (and significant luck), the VCR was saved by one vote at the Supreme Court in 1984.

Regulation Attack

In 1982 legislation was introduced in Congress to give copyright holders the exclusive right to authorize the rental of prerecorded videos. Legislation was reintroduced in 1983, the Consumer Video Sales Rental Act of 1983. This legislation would have allowed the content industry to shut down the rental market, or charge exorbitant fees, by making it a crime to rent out movies purchased commercially. In effect, this legislation would have ended the existing market model of rental stores. With 34 co-sponsors, major lobbyists and significant campaign contributions to support it, this legislation had substantial support at the time.

Video stores saw the Consumer Video Sales Rental Act as an existential threat, and on October 21, 1983, about 30 years before the SOPA/PIPA protests, video stores across the country closed down for several hours in protest. While the 1983 legislation died in committee, the legislation would be reintroduced in 1984. In 1984, similar legislation was enacted, The Record Rental Amendment of 1984, which banned the renting and leasing of music. In 1990, Congress banned the renting of computer software.

But in the face of public backlash from video retailers and customers, Congress did not pass the Consumer Video Sales Rental Act.

At the same time, the movie studios tried to ban the Betamax VCR through legislation. Eventually the content industry decided to support legislation that would require compulsory licensing rather than an outright ban. But such a compulsory licensing scheme would have drastically driven up the costs of video tape players and may have effectively banned the technology (similar regulations did ban other technologies).

For the content industry, banning the technology was a feature, not a bug.

Read the entire article here.

Image: Video Home System (VHS) cassette tape. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

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The Benefits of BingeTV

Netflix_logoThe boss of Netflix, Ted Sarandos, is planning to kill you, with kindness. Actually, joy. His plan to recast our consumption of television programming aims to deliver mountains of joyful entertainment in place of the current wasteland of incremental TV-dross punctuated with schlock-TV.

While the plan is still in work, the fruits of Netflix’s labor are becoming apparent — binge-watching is rapidly assuming the momentum of a cultural wave in the US. The super-sized viewing gulp, from say thirteen successive hours of House of Cards or Orange is the New Black, is quickly replacing the national attention deficit disorder enabled by the once anxious and restless trigger finger on the TV-remote, as viewers flip from one mindless show to the next. Yet, by making Netflix into the next great media and entertainment empire Sarandos may be laying the foundation for an unintended, and more important, benefit — lengthening the attention-span of the average adult.

From the Guardian:

Is Ted Sarandos a force for evil? It’s a theory. Consider the evidence. Britain is already a country beset by various health-ruining, bank balance-depleting behaviours – binge-drinking, chain-smoking, overeating, watching football. Since January 2012 when Netflix launched its UK operation, Sarandos, its chief content officer, has created a new demographic of bingeing Britons –1.5 million subscribers who spend £5.99 a month to gorge on TV online.

To get a sense of what the 49-year-old Arizonan is doing to TV culture, imagine that you’ve just finished watching episode five of Joss Whedon’s Firefly on your laptop, courtesy of Netflix. You’ve got places to go, people to meet. But up pops a little box on screen saying the next episode starts in 12 seconds. Five hours later, you dimly realise that you’ve forgotten to pick up your kids from school and/or your boss has texted you 12 times wondering if you’re planning to show up today.

Dooes he feel responsible for creating this binge culture, not just here but across the world (Netflix has 38 million subscribers in 40 countries, who watch about a billion hours of TV shows and films each month), I ask Sarandos when we meet in a London hotel? He laughs. “I love it when it happens that you just have to watch. It only takes that little bit of prodding.”

Sarandos feels it is legitimate to prod the audience so that they can get what they want. Or what he thinks they want. All 13 episodes of, say, political thriller House of Cards with Kevin Spacey, or the same number of prison comedy drama Orange is the New Black with Taylor Schilling, released in one great virtual lump.

Why? “The television business is based on managed dissatisfaction. You’re watching a great television show you’re really wrapped up in? You might get 50 minutes of watching a week and then 18,000 minutes of waiting until the next episode comes along. I’d rather make it all about the joy.”

Sarandos says he got an intimation of the pleasures of binge-viewing as a teenager in Phoenix, Arizona. On Sundays in the mid-70s, he and his family would gather round the telly to watch Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, a satire on soap operas. “If you worked, the only way could catch up with the five episodes they showed in the week was watching them back to back on Sunday night. So bingeing was already big in my subconscious.”

Years later, Sarandos binged again. “I really loved the Sopranos but didn’t have HBO. So someone would send me tapes of the show with three or four episodes. I would watch one episode and go: ‘Oh my God, I’ve got to watch one more.’ I’d watch the whole tape and champ at the bit for the next one.”

The TV revolution for which Sarandos and Netflix are responsible involves eliminating bit-champing and monetising instant gratification. Netflix has done well from that revolution: its reported net income was $29.5m for the quarter ending 30 June. Profits quintupled compared with the same period in 2012 – in part due to its new UK operation.

Sarandos hasn’t done badly either. He and his wife, former US ambassador Nicole Avant, have a $5.4m Beverly Hills property and recently bought comedian David Spade’s beachside Malibu home for $10.2m. Sarandos argues viewers have long been battling schedulers bent on stopping them seeing what they want, when they want. “Before time shifting, they would use VCRs to collect episodes and view them whenever they wanted. And, more importantly, in whatever doses they wanted. Then DVD box sets and later DVRs made that self-dosing even more sophisticated.”

He began studying how viewers consumed TV while working part-time in a strip-mall video store in the early 1980s. By 30, he was an executive for a company supplying Blockbuster with videos. In 2000, he was hired by Netflix to develop its service posting rental DVDs to customers. “We saw that people would return those discs for TV series very quickly, given they had three hours of programming on them – more quickly than they would a movie. They wanted the next hit.”

Netflix mutated from a DVD-by-post service to an on-demand internet network for films and TV series, and Sarandos found himself cutting deals with traditional TV networks to broadcast shows online a season after they were originally shown, instead of waiting for several years for them to be available for syndication.

Thanks to Netflix and its competitors, the old TV set in the living room is becoming redundant. That living-room fixture has been replaced by a host of mobile surrogates – tablet, laptop, Xbox and even smart phone.

Were that all Sarandos had achieved, he would have been minor player in the idiot box revolution. But a couple of years ago, he decided Netflix should commission its own drama series and release them globally in season-sized bundles. In making that happen, he radically changed not just how but what we watch.

Why bother? “Up till a couple of years ago, a network would make every pilot for a series into a one-off show. I started getting worried, thinking nobody’s going to make series any more, and so we wouldn’t be able to buy them [for Netflix] a season after they’ve been broadcast. So we said maybe we should develop that muscle ourselves.” Sarandos has a $2bn annual content budget, and spends as much as 10% on developing that muscle.

Strikingly, he didn’t spend that money on movies, but TV. Why? “Movies are becoming more global, which is making them less intimate. If you make a movie for the world, you don’t make it for any country.

“I think television is going in the opposite direction – richer characterisation, denser storylines – and so much more like reading a novel. It is a golden age for TV, but only because the best writers and directors increasingly like to work outside Hollywood.” Hence, perhaps, the successes of The Sopranos, The West Wing, The Wire, Downton Abbey, and by this time next year – he hopes – Netflix series such as the Wachowskis’ sci-fi drama Sense 8. TV, if Sarandos has his way, is the new Hollywood.

Netflix’s first foray into original drama came only last year with Lilyhammer, in which Steve Van Zandt, who played mobster Silvio Dante in The Sopranos, reprised his gangster chops as Frank “The Fixer” Tagliano, a mobster starting a new life in Lillehammer, Norway. The whole season of eight episodes was released on Netflix at the same time, delighting those suffering withdrawal symptoms after the end of The Sopranos. A second season is soon to be released.

Sarandos suggests Lilyhammer points the way to a new globalised future for TV drama – more than a fifth of Norway’s population watched the show. “It opened a world of possibilities – mainstream viewing of subtitled programming in the US and releasing in every language and every territory at the exact same moment. To me, that’s what the future will be like.”

Sarandos also tore up another page of the TV rulebook, the one that says each episode of a series must be the same length. “If you watched Arrested Development [the sitcom he recommissioned in May, seven years after it last broadcast] none of those episodes has the same running time – some were 28 minutes, some 47 minutes. I’m saying take as much time as you need to tell the story well. You couldn’t really do that on linear television because you have a grid, commercial breaks and the like.”

House of Cards, his second commissioned drama series whose first season was released in February, even better demonstrates Sarandos’s diabolical genius (if that is what it is). He once described himself as “a human algorithm” for his ability, developed in that Phoenix strip mall, for recommending movies based on a customer’s previous rentals. He did something similar when he commissioned House of Cards.

“It was generated by algorithm,” Sarandos says, grinning. But he’s not entirely joking. “I didn’t use data to make the show, but I used data to determine the potential audience to a level of accuracy very few people can do.”

It worked like this. In 2011, he learned that Hollywood director David Fincher, then working on his movie adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, was pitching his first TV series. Based on a script by Oscar-nominated writer Beau Willimon, it was to be a remake the 1990 BBC series House of Cards, and would star Kevin Spacey as an amoral US senator.

Some networks were sceptical, but Sarandos – not least because he’s a political junkie who loves political thrillers and, along with his wife, helped raise nearly $700m for Obama’s re-election campaign – was tempted. He unleashed his spreadsheets, using Netflix data to determine how many subscribers watched political dramas such as The West Wing or the original House of Cards.

“We’ve been collecting data for a long time. It showed how many Netflix members love The West Wing and the original House of Cards. It also showed who loved David Fincher’s films and Kevin Spacey’s.”

Armed with this data, Sarandos made the biggest gamble of his life. He went to David Fincher’s West Hollywood office and announced he wanted to spend $100m on not one, but two 13-part seasons of House of Cards. Based on his calculations, he says: “I felt that sounded like a pretty safe bet.”

Read the entire article here.

Image: Netflix logo. Courtesy of Wikipedia / Netflix.

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Lost in Transit

Next time you are stuck at an airport due to a delayed flight or an ill-timed connection, rather than finding a quiet spot near a wall outlet (to charge one of your 10 electrical devices), try something different. Some airports offer some fascinating distractions for stressed-out fliers.

From the Telegraph:

Modern air travellers can pet a “therapy dog”, attend a concert, have their teeth whitened or admire a 42-foot statue of Gollum.

Other options include yoga and meditation for health-conscious holidaymakers (Dallas Fort Worth and Albuquerque airports, respectively) and massages for anxious fliers (New Delhi), while Hong Kong International boasts an iMax cinema.

A list of unusual activities was compiled by CheapFlights.co.uk, the travel comparison website, for its infographic “50 things to do when you’re stuck at an airport”.

Here are some of the most bizarre and surprising airport features:

– Ping Pong – tables are set up at Milwaukee’s Mitchell Airport

– Swim – a swimming pool and Jacuzzi are available to passengers at Singapore’s Changi Airport

– Health check – teeth whitening, blood pressure testing and expert physicians are all available at Incheon Airport

– Gollum – a 42-foot statue of Gollum from Lord of the Rings sits catching a fish in Wellington Airport

– Fish – Vancouver Airport has an aquarium and a jellyfish exhibit

– The stars – Tokyo’s Haneda Airport boasts its own planetarium

– A dinosaur – a 10-foot-tall, 31-foot-long Yangchuanosaurus greets passengers at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport

– Sleep – take advantage of specially designed ‘sleeping chairs’ in Seoul, Singapore or Amsterdam

– Snuggle with a dog – at Miami International, Casey the therapy dog wanders the terminal with her owner. Anyone is welcome to touch her

– Toilets – from Hello Kitty-themed restrooms in Taipei to futuristic electronic toilets in Tokyo, airport bathrooms have plenty of interesting facilities

– Nature – pay a visit to the rainforest without leaving the airport. A section of jungle has been transplanted into Kuala Lumpur

– Ice Skating – Seoul Incheon offers a synthetic ice rink

Read the entire article here.

Inforgraphic courtesy of Cheapflights.

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