Entertainment revolution

This rant has been brewing for a while, and I’ve finally got chance to write down my thoughts on a matter that rather annoys me, and that is TV shows, or more to the point, the current method for watching them. It isn’t just limited to TV either, films come under the same category, although to a lesser degree.

The Problem

So, what is my problem with all this? Easy, I was paying Sky TV about £50 a month, to watch maybe 10 hours of shows each week. The rest of the time that I was watching TV was spent browsing through the program guide or watching re-runs of old shows. The whole TV industry is another one, similar to the music industry, that is stuck in an old way of thinking. When TV first came about, it was required for a central agency to broadcast the shows on a fixed schedule, there was no other way to get the information out to the viewers.

Cable and satellite came along later, but still it was required to broadcast from a central point. Now we have high speed internet going to the majority of the population, but rather than make it easier for us, its added a new layer of complexity to it. Yes, you can use Netflix, or Love Film, or iTunes to buy your TV shows and stream them to your TV, but to ensure that you get all the shows you want, you will have to subscribe to all the providers out there, which can start to cost a lot, not to mention the usage caps that ISPs put on their broadband packages.

This also doesn’t take into account initial air dates of shows, with the UK generally getting shows months after they first air in the USA. I signed up for Netflix to give it a try, and whilst it has a large catalogue of programs to watch, the latest series of shows don’t show.

The Solution?

What can we do about this? Well, I am by no means an expert (this is just a rant after all) and only have a rough idea of how things work in the industry, but surely there is a better way to distribute a TV show? A big broadcasting infrastructure is no longer needed, so why do we still have the middle man of broadcasters? Much like some musicians are doing, how about a TV studio puts their latest series up on the internet to buy and download? With technologies such as Bit Torrent, then the actual technical requirements would be rather low. I believe this would give quite a few benefits such as:

  • Direct payment to the studios will mean a bigger share of profits
  • No more guessing on the popularity of a show. If people like it, they will be buying it.
  • The people pay for the shows they want to watch, so hopefully things like X Factor will not  be on our screens. Who’d actually pay for it?
  • You can watch the episodes when you want. Big new series? Watch it when it first comes out and join in the discussions about it. Late to hear about a show? Catch up at your pleasure.

Of course there are a few drawbacks. Initial funding for a series would need to be found somewhere, which is where the current media corporations come in, and the networks have a lot of resources behind them that a small studio may not have access to, including sound stages and filming equipment. I would be very happy to spend the £50 a month on TV shows that I like, hopefully giving them a lot bigger portion of my money then they are currently getting.

For example, if I watch 10 hours of TV a week, then I’d just pay £1.25/hour for the actual TV I watch. Of course, the show would probably make the first couple of episodes free to get interest going, and perhaps offer the entire series for a bulk price, or even a discount on the DVD release. Free to air TV stations in the UK aren’t too bad, with various catch up methods, but none of these offer true freedom and each station has a different program required to watch them.

Current Experiments

This isn’t a new idea either, Sanctuary started as a budget web series which then got picked up by a network. YouTube is full of interesting regular shows (and cats) such as The Guild, Tabletop, Cocktails with Stan Lee, and is also now running ‘channels’ for collections of shows including Geek and Sundry, and the Nerdist Channel. I am finding myself watching more and more YouTube shows thanks to being able to see them on the main screen.

So, perhaps this is all just wishful thinking, after all the music industry is still trying to resist the change, but perhaps like the music industry it can be subverted by smaller outfits. We’ll just have to wait and see.


Ebooks and why we still need to cut down trees…

I haven’t done much in the way of geek things over the past week, and I’ve been meaning to have this rant, so here we go.

I like gadgets. I have a lot of them, some may say too many, but I say not enough! I’ve even had an e-reader, and am quite impressed with e-ink technology. What I don’t like is the actual e-books, or rather how they are sold.

Nothing can compare to an actual physical dead tree version of a book. Its great to have a book in your hands, its just a much more pleasant experience. E-books however are handy. They’re great for taking on holidays, much easier having a device with hundreds of books on than carrying around a stack of heavy paperbacks. Also, a lot of documentation comes as downloadable PDF files which is so much easier to read on e-ink device than an LCD screen.

A lot of my issues surround DRM and price.  I’ve got issues with DRM on any format or media, but on e-books it is especially bad, compounded by the fact that e-books are generally only a little cheaper than their physical counterpart.

With a real book, you can

  • Lend it to a friend
  • Give it to a friend
  • Take it to a second hand shop, and swap it
  • Keep it forever

All these points have one thing in common. Ownership. You never actually own an e-book, you’ve just got it on long term loan from the seller. You aren’t allowed to resell the book at all, and even lending it to someone is hard enough. Woe betide if you want to try a different e-reader, you’re left with having to either illegally strip the DRM from the book, or buy it again.

If the seller goes out of business, you will more than likely lose access to your books. Don’t think this will happen because of the size of the company? Well in 2007, Virgin’s downloadable music store decided it wasn’t making enough money, so withdrew from the business. Suddenly all the music you bought through that service was unusable. Or maybe the seller decides that they sold the book by accident, as Amazon did with 1984. They removed access to the book to stop you reading it.

The last point above is not just about DRM or ownership as such, its down to the fact that the digital world moves so fast. The current e-book formats may not be around in five or ten years, but I have books on my shelves that I remember buying whilst still at primary school, nearly thirty years ago. I also have books that are older than me, that were picked up from second hand bookshops. These are out of print and unavailable from any e-book retailer. In another thirty years, will I still have a functioning e-reader that will read the current formats? Projects to read digital media that is less than twenty years old are a big undertaking these days, but I’ll still have books on shelves that I can simply pick up and read.

Of course, to compound all this, e-books are sold at a ridiculous price. As I’ve already mentioned, you are simply renting these books and never really own them, but the price difference doesn’t reflect this. Some e-books are still being sold at hardback prices, when the actual cost of manufacture is a moot point. A lot of my previous issues could be overlooked if they would simply charge a reasonable amount for the books. If a book was under a pound to purchase (rent), then I would think nothing of paying for it, and I may even take more of a risk on an unknown author. I find myself being put off buying a book these days, even a physical one, because the prices are so high. The pricing model has worked for smartphone apps, so why can’t it work with books?

I love reading, I love books, and I love gadgets. Unfortunately there is no way currently for me to legally use e-books. If I want an MP3, I buy the CD and rip it. If I want to store my DVDs on my network, I can rip them too if they don’t already come with a digital version. This can’t be done with books unless you go to the trouble of buying or building a book scanner. I could use the kindle app and then strip the DRM out of the file, but I don’t want to do this as I shouldn’t have to, and I’m not going to give Amazon any of my money whilst they still insist on running this monopoly. I do need to say, it is not just Amazon. All other e-book sellers work in the same way, and this could be due to the publishers, but it is still wrong.

Right, rant over. I’m going to go to bed and read a good, dead tree, book.


Blog writing

OK, I admit it, I’m useless at writing on here. So, now I’ve admitted it, I’m going to try and do something about it. Baby steps at first, but I’m going to attempt to do at least one post or page a week. I’ve plenty of projects going on, and always have an opinion on things, so finding subjects shouldn’t be hard.

Just a few of the things I’ve got on the go at the moment are:

Quad copter – I’m building my first quad copter, and hopefully my next post will be about the first successful flight, and maybe even a video, probably of me crashing it! Just waiting for some replacement parts from eBay. After the first one is built, I’ll be looking at building a bigger and better one, hopefully with a camera on it.

House monitoring – this will be another post, or collection of posts, in my never ending task of proving just how much of a geek I am. I’m aiming to be able to not only monitor the house (and thus make it more efficient),  but also control it remotely. The initial stages can be found at home.22balmoralroad.net. Very much a work in progress.

Electronics – Going pretty much hand in hand with the above two, is my renewed interest in electronics. At the moment I’m very much in the stage of getting the tools together that I need, and learning the cad type software for PCB design. I should have some info to write up on my work area soon.

3d printer – last, but by no means least, I’m awaiting the delivery of my Huxley reprap printer. Have you realised I’m a geek yet?

As well as all this, I’ll no doubt have a rant about various things, including a bit of a write up about my new Nexus Galaxy, when it finally arrives.

Oh, and I’m writing this using the WordPress app on Xoom, which seems quite a nice simple app, and lets me write things whilst I’m in bed without my laptop, because lets face it, everyone thinks best when they’re trying to sleep!

That’s all for now, lets see if I keep my promise!

Facebook and privacy

Ok, I’m getting sick of everyone complaining about the lack of privacy on Facebook. Yesterday was Quit Facebook Day, a day set assign for people to quit en mass in protest of the changing privacy rules.

Let us get this straight, you’ve uploaded or entered personal details about yourself onto a web site that offers no guarantees and charges no money, and you’re surprised when you find they can’t be trusted. You may as well put a poster in your window containing your NI number, date of birth, phone number, mother’s maiden name, etc. Having said that, most of those details are available surprisingly easily, for very little money.

Privacy is not the responsibility of Facebook.

If you don’t want information about yourself possibly leaking out, don’t upload it to a web site. The only information that you should put on sites such as Facebook is the information that you don’t mind being publicly known. Don’t put your deepest feelings up there unless you are willing to let total strangers know about them. Don’t upload the picture of you having an indiscretion with someone other than your significant other, and be surprised when they find out. Don’t moan about the bad decision your boss made today and then be shocked when you’re hauled into a disciplinary meeting tomorrow! Remember that it is becoming more common for recruiters to search for you online before interviews, or for that lass you met last night to check you out on facebook before ringing you back.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t use social networking sites, or upload your photos to Flickr, you just need to realise where you are putting this information. These aren’t government agencies such as the DVLA that you need to trust, these are corporations that are out to make money and should be treated as such.

There is a lot of information about myself available on the internet, but there is nothing that I am bothered about people seeing. More to the point, there is very little that can’t be found out by other means. Google me and you’ll find a fair bit, most of which points to the fact that I’m a bit of a geek! Shocker! I use Facebook a lot, its a useful communication tool for keeping up with close friends and old friends alike. Yes, there are parts I don’t like, but they can mostly be hidden. Yes, I do have my contact details on there, but most people have them anyway. If all privacy was turned off from Facebook it would be annoying, but hardly a catastrophic calamity.

In the end, what is needed is something that is drastically lacking on the Internet. Common Sense!

Indian call centers

A lot of people complain about companies outsourcing their call centers and moving them overseas to places like India, saying that the service level suffers and they are a total waste of money. Well, taking out the issues around removing jobs from the UK, I think that it is down to training of the staff and the overseas people that the companies are willing to employ.

Just recently I’ve had reason to call a couple of call centers from different companies. One was a fantastic experience, with really helpful staff who dealt with my queries proffesionally. The other was absolutely abismal with the staff not being able to understand me and fobbing me off.

When I wanted to upgrade my phone with Three, I gave the upgrades line a ring and (after the usual automated menus) had a pleasant Indian sounding lady take my order who took my details and sorted out my upgrade. Of course, as it was a sales line she tried to sell me some addons, which I listened to and actually agreed to one, an unlimited internet package for an extra fiver a month. Now about 10 minutes after I finished the call, I got the lady ringing me back to tell me that the unlimited internet offer conflicted with my mobile broadband. After a short conversation where I explained what I actually needed she went away to talk to a supervisor. When she rang back she had everything sorted (I couldn’t have the unlimited internet offer and use my mobile as a modem). Of course, this was a sales line, so they may well have their best staff on there, but later that week there was a confusion over the delivery of my upgrade and when I rang up to track the package on a couple of occasions I got some more really helpful staff who gave me all the details I needed to find out what was happening to my delivery. Now order tracking is probably low on the priority for a company to provide, but I still got good service and helpful staff.

On the other end of the service spectrum is Sky. A year or so ago I got a Sky+ HD box off eBay and installed it myself. Now when I initially rang up to get my viewing card paired up I got really awful service. I kept getting cut off and when I finally got talking to someone they refused to let me pair the box unless I took the HD subscription. In the end, after getting put through to a supervisor they told me that the computer system had crashed and they’d have to submit my application via paper and it’d take up to seven days. I didn’t believe a word of it, but as it was only the movies that I couldn’t watch I gave them the benefit of the doubt and left it for a week. When I called back thankfully I got the Scottish call center and they sorted out the pairing whilst I was on the phone.

This all happened again when I actually wanted to get the HD subscription. The Indian call center basically couldn’t understand what I wanted and couldn’t be bothered trying, so I got fobbed off with yet another lie when they told me I’d have to get a new viewing card and it would turn up in a few days. Again, I gave them the benefit of the doubt and left it for a week before ringing back. This time I got a nice woman in Scotland who sorted everything out nice and quickly and within a couple of hours the HD subscription was sorted and I could watch Battlestar in all its HD glory!

So, when people complain about overseas call centers being useless, they can’t lump them all in together. Some companies have moved them and seem to actually traing their staff, or at least have good procedures in place. Others have just hired anyone who can speak a dozen words of english, plonked a script in front of them and left them to it.

Of course, it would be nice to keep the jobs and money in the UK, but thats a totally thing!