tymshft

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Archive for the tag “television”

What has happened to the sports broadcasting industry in 29 years

On Saturday, May 6, I was in a Goodwill store in Santa Clarita (Canyon Country), California, and found myself in the book section. I was eyeing a 1988 book entitled Sports for Sale: Television, Money, and the Fans by David A. Klatell and Norman Marcus. I was intrigued by the predictions on the back of the book jacket.

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So, in the interests of journalism, I spent the two bucks on the book, knowing that I would probably end up writing about these “provocative findings and conclusions,” some of which were spot-on, others of which were a little off. Plus, it appears that the authors were unable to anticipate one huge change in the future – hint: you’re using it to read these words right now, unless you’ve already quit reading this to search for NBA playoff highlight videos.

As is the case with post-mortems on failed predictions, my intent will not be to criticize those who made the flawed prediction, but to discern what circumstances led to the flawed prediction. (Not that Klatell would care what I think; he passed away last year.)

I’m not prepared to write about these predictions yet; as I write this, I’m only on page 10 of the book. But I can already see a number of the difficulties that the authors would encounter. Remember – this book was written in 1988. Back then, ABC Sports was still a very strong sports brand, and I don’t think that anyone could conceive of that brand disappearing entirely. Fox Sports did not even exist – heck, the Fox Broadcasting Company itself was only two years old.

But the most shocking indicator of the changes between 1988 and 2017 can be found in this passage, found on page 10.

On the other hand, we not only remember certain television images, we also recall where we were when we saw them, who was with us at the time, and how they made us feel. We remember Olga Korbut’s charm, O. J. Simpson’s grace, Muhammad Ali’s bag of tricks, Celtics’ pride, Mets’ arrogance, and Dodger Blue…

Those who remember O. J. Simpson today and, um, “remember certain television images” may not associate the word “grace” with him.

(And there have been plenty of other changes with the other personalities named. In 1998, Korbut’s country was Communist and the U.S. President had recently referred to it as an “evil empire.” And the Dodgers were fresh off winning a World Series – how many more World Series would the O’Malley-owned team win over the coming decades?)

This should be an interesting read, even if Kirkus Reviews panned the book when it was published. I predict that I’ll come back later with more thoughts as I read it.

Why I won’t watch New Years on TV tonight

I am writing this on December 31, 2014 at about 8:00 pm Pacific time. In 3 1/2 hours, Disney’s ABC television network will present a special New Year’s Eve show. This show, which has been running for decades and is currently hosted by Ryan Seacrest, brings the viewer all of the excitement of the New Year. This not only includes musical performances that ring in the New Year, but also the drama of watching the dropping of the ball in Times Square to mark the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015.

It’s a stunning television moment.

But I won’t bother to watch it.

Why should I?

You see, I live in California. By the time that ABC shows the dropping of the ball in Times Square at 11:59 Pacific time, the network will be televising an event that occurred three hours previously. Back at 8:59 Pacific time, when the ball will actually drop, ABC will be showing something else out here in California.

This is just an example of how the West Coast hardly ever sees anything on live television. With the exception of sporting events – well, most sporting events – “live” presentations out here are on a three-hour tape delay. And New Years’ Eve is no different.

So why turn on the TV at midnight to see a “live” event that isn’t live? If I’m going to watch history, I might as well watch the History Channel.

Happy New Year.

P.S. Years ago, Los Angeles radio hosts Kevin and Bean hosted a television show that broadcast a West Coast New Year’s celebration. Sadly, it didn’t catch on.

Live from Stamford, it’s the Sochi Olympics!

Remember my post from last month that predicted a time when the only people at a sporting event would be the players?

That time may be closer than we think.

Of course, the idea that EVERYONE has to be at a sporting event is a relatively new concept. Back in the days that Ronald Reagan was a radio baseball announcer, he and his fellow announcers often broadcast games from a studio, heavily dependent upon a stream of information from Western Union.

That offended modern sensibilities, and companies subsequently insisted that their announcers actually attend the games that they were broadcasting. And they did; during Monday Night Football’s heyday, the arrival of Gifford, Cosell, and Meredith in an NFL city was regarding as the circus coming to town.

But now, the pendulum is swinging back a bit.

If you live outside of Los Angeles, you may think that Petros Papadakis and Matt “Money” Smith have disappeared from the radio entirely. The truth is, however, that their show – initially local, then national – has gone local again. And on Thursday’s local show, Papadakis was talking about his Sunday night television partner, Fred Roggin, who had left Los Angeles to cover the Olympics. But Roggin hadn’t gone to Sochi, Russia – he had gone to Stamford, Connecticut.

Roggin, however, is a host, and hosts are usually broadcasting from some studio or another. It’s not like the Sochi Olympic play-by-play announcers were going to be in faraway Connecticut, would they?

Well, actually…

“We have a team in Stamford that will be grabbing event highlights, interviews with athletes, medals ceremonies, feature stories, amazing finishes,” [NBC Sports editorial VP Tom] Seeley said. “They will produce about 100 clips a day, long-form replays plus short-form clips of three to five minutes.”

It also means curling coverage, live from Russia and Stamford….

During curling competition in Sochi, video “will be coming to Stamford over digital paths,” [NBC Sports engineering VP Tim] Canary said. “The matches will come with natural sound, but the voicing will be done in Stamford. We will put curling experts in an announce booth and they will do play-by-play. So viewers will be hearing a call done in Stamford for a match being played in Russia.”

Unfortunately, these announcers will not be supported by Western Union.

Why is the Rose Bowl called a bowl?

(If E.M. Forster’s fiction becomes reality, it will be realized in incremental steps.)

Bob and Judy were in the basement, celebrating New Year’s Day in their entertainment center. The display screen, which Bob and Judy still occasionally called a “TV,” was currently displaying the items that were going to be delivered to their home in the next half hour. Bob and Judy, Luddites that they were, still liked to order real meat, and occasionally Judy would even contact the specialty stores and have them drone some organic meat over to them.

The order perused, Bob switched the display back to the Huffington Entertainment Channel, just in time to hear an announcement about the forthcoming Rose Bowl football game. This year’s matchup appeared to be a competitive one, in which Ohio State was cast to face Reed College.

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: THIS IS MY FICTION. I’LL WRITE WHAT I PLEASE, REGARDLESS OF HOW IMPROBABLE IT MAY BE.]

Bob turned to Judy. “I’m bored,” he said. “Do you think our grandson’s awake yet?”

“Probably,” Judy replied.

“Are you up for an adventure?” Bob asked.

Judy nodded, and went to wake North up.

North walked into the basement eating a bowl of Soylent. “North,” asked his grandfather, “how would you like to go to the Rose Bowl today to watch the football game?”

North looked puzzled. “What do you mean, go to the Rose Bowl?”

Judy smiled. “Well, instead of watching the game on the TV – I mean display – we can go right to where the game is being played. Did you know that it’s being played in Pasadena, just a few miles from here?”

North still looked puzzled. “Why would you want to do that?”

Bob smiled. “Because then you could be right there and see the players as they play, rather than watching it through the display!”

North remained silent as Bob continued. “There are actually seats surrounding the field, and we can sit in them and watch the players!”

North’s puzzled look returned. “But then you wouldn’t get all the camera angles and the supplemental information feeds. Are the seats more comfortable than the seats in this room?”

Despite the fact that they hadn’t been in a stadium for decades, Bob and Judy quickly answered, “No.”

Judy smiled. “But it’s an experience that you’ll never forget. Back when Grandpa and I were kids, tens of thousands of people would go to the Rose Bowl just to watch the game. I don’t want you to miss this. You’re coming with us.”

“OK,” said North in a grudging tone. “But this sounds weird.”

30 minutes later, the car had deposited them at the Rose Bowl, and they stood outside in the sun. Each of them was wearing a (southern California) winter jacket, and they weren’t used to them.

“What is that Tickets building?” asked North, gesturing to an empty structure.

“Well,” explained Bob, “years ago, people would pay lots of money to come here and sit in the stadium and watch the game. Some people paid hundreds of dollars for the tickets alone, which was a lot of money in those days. And if a team from Ohio were playing in the Rose Bowl, then thousands of people from Ohio would fly in airplanes to Pasadena and stay here for several days, culminating in the big game.”

“I know it seems silly,” Bob continued, “but back when my parents were kids, displays often had a screen size of less than 30 inches. And the entertainment channels just showed the game, without the supplementary information, and with just two or three people talking about it. Back in those days, you’d actually have a better time going to the game itself than trying to watch it on a tiny little TV – I mean display.”

As Bob talked, the three of them walked past the empty ticket building and entered the stadium. Unlike the scene at previous Rose Bowls, the stands only contained a few hundred spectators, mostly older people like Bob and Judy. Ticket sales had ceased 20 years ago, and there was even talk of eliminating the physical game – and all physical football games – altogether, and just asking the Madden Company (named for a 20th century football figure and early game pioneer) to create simulations for the games.

Despite the empty stadium, football was still football, although the rules that had emerged over the years tended to favor the offense over the defense. Rare was the game in which either team scored less than 50 points, but there was still some competitive balance in the game, and it was not as ridiculous as it could have been.

Despite the discomfort, North was actually enjoying the game – especially since Reed had jumped out to an early 21-7 lead against Ohio State. He was smiling as he munched on his Soylent snack, and Bob and Judy were smiling also, happy that North could have this experience.

During a break in the action, North turned to his grandparents and asked a question.

“Grandma, Grandpa,” asked North. “Why is it called the ROSE Bowl?”

Bob and Judy found themselves at a loss for words.

How demographics changed daytime television after 1980

Before I get into this tymshft post, I wanted to briefly go off-topic and mention a wonderful Google+ community called Alternate History. Perhaps someone there will write a “what-if” scenario entitled “What if U.S. morning television had remained the same, despite demographic change?”

Of course, the person who wrote such an alternate history would have a tough task, since many people today would not recognize daytime television from the 1970s.

Young people today may not believe it, but in the 1970s daytime television was entirely occupied by game shows, soap operas, and inconsequential talk shows. The reason for this was an admittedly sexist assumption – since the men of the house were working outside of the home, and since the women of the house were housewives, some light entertainment was needed to occupy the women when they weren’t cleaning and baking.

While one can truly question whether this was ever true, the three (at the time) commercial television networks certainly thought it was true, and structured their programming accordingly. Unbeknownst to the network television executives, however, the demographic landscape had changed. There were fewer and fewer housewives as more women worked outside the home. More and more of the daytime television audience consisted of college students. And at the same time, technologies were emerging which allowed someone to videotape a show during the day, and watch it in the evening. Because of these factors, daytime television presented an opportunity for the networks to present edgy programming – if only they realized it.

The first network to engage in such programming was NBC. While some would later say that Fred Silverman’s genius was responsible for the change, even Silverman himself subsequently admitted that it was all an accident. NBC was being trounced by CBS and ABC, and Silverman was desperate to try anything to escape the cellar. While much of his enormous energy was concentrated on NBC’s prime time schedule, he also paid attention to other parts of the schedule. NBC had a young comedian named David Letterman under contract, and Silverman decided to put him in the morning slot, cancelling several game shows to make way for The David Letterman Show, which premiered on June 23, 1980.

It soon became apparent that this was not your typical show for housewives. One of the earliest indications of this was the appearance by Andy Kaufman as a guest.

By the end of the summer of 1980, David Letterman was the most talked-about personality on television. People began to call in sick or claim to have car problems so that they could stay home and watch the show – in fact, “Stupid Car Problems” became a recurring theme on the show.

Networks, as they always do, attempted to counter-program Letterman’s success. While ABC’s morning show with Andy Kaufman himself was not successful, CBS found its own comedian, Jay Leno, and built a show that eventually surpassed Letterman’s. After the Kaufman failure, ABC tried a different tack, luring newsman Edwin Newman away from NBC to launch a hard news show called “Dayline.”

By 1985, the transformation of morning television was complete. The soap operas and game shows were moved from the morning schedule to the evening schedule, although many commented that “Wheel of Fortune” and “Dallas,” while successful in so-called “prime time,” could never make it in the mornings. (Even today, the block of programming between 8:00 pm and 11:00 pm Eastern time is still called “prime time,” despite the fact that this is an almost forgotten part of the schedule.) Daytime, however, was a hotbed of activity, as hard news shows hosted by Newman, Pat Buchanan, and Al Franken battled against edgy talk shows from Leno, Letterman, and Phil Donahue. ABC tried to buck the trend by heavily promoting a lighter talk show from Oprah Winfrey; the show, however, was a complete failure, and was quickly replaced by a hard news show with Geraldo Rivera.

While many of the daytime personalities have changed – Al Franken, Pat Buchanan, and Phil Donahue left television for the U.S. Senate, and Leno and Letterman have long since retired – the nature of daytime television programming remains the same, even in 2013. But today’s stars well understand their debt to the pioneers of daytime television. Recently, talk show host Michele Bachmann scored a ratings coup by having David Letterman and Jay Leno appear on her show together. The segment was moderated by Bachmann’s co-host, the resurrected 1980s failed star Oprah Winfrey.

I hope to write a future post to explain how Leno, Letterman, and the like contributed to other massive changes – the proliferation of flexible work schedules, technologies that allowed time-shifting of television shows for those who didn’t have flexible work schedules, and the massive increase in people who worked from home.

The robots do not mean to hurt you

I was looking for updated information on Narrative Science, the company that I wrote about last year. I couldn’t find anything new – other than the fact that Forbes still publishes Narrative Science-authored articles – but I did find some interesting observations.

First, if you’re worried about your job being taken away by technology, it’s already happened once before.

It’s hard to believe you’d have an economy at all if you gave pink slips to more than half the labor force. But that—in slow motion—is what the industrial revolution did to the workforce of the early 19th century. Two hundred years ago, 70 percent of American workers lived on the farm. Today automation has eliminated all but 1 percent of their jobs, replacing them (and their work animals) with machines. But the displaced workers did not sit idle. Instead, automation created hundreds of millions of jobs in entirely new fields.

In a similar fashion, any jobs that are lost over the next few decades will be replaced by new ones.

Second, there’s a chance that you may be working WITH the robots. That in itself requires a major advance.

[The industrial robot Baxter] can look around and indicate where it is looking by shifting the cartoon eyes on its head. It can perceive humans working near it and avoid injuring them. And workers can see whether it sees them. Previous industrial robots couldn’t do this, which means that working robots have to be physically segregated from humans. The typical factory robot is imprisoned within a chain-link fence or caged in a glass case. They are simply too dangerous to be around, because they are oblivious to others. This isolation prevents such robots from working in a small shop, where isolation is not practical. Optimally, workers should be able to get materials to and from the robot or to tweak its controls by hand throughout the workday; isolation makes that difficult. Baxter, however, is aware. Using force-feedback technology to feel if it is colliding with a person or another bot, it is courteous. You can plug it into a wall socket in your garage and easily work right next to it.

I’ve never seen the TV show Lost in Space, and I didn’t realize that when the Robot said “Danger, Will Robinson,” the danger came from the robot itself…

Newton Minow’s little-known “vastly wasted” speech

Google+ provides a forum for intelligent conversations on wide-ranging topics.

And then there are the other ones.

As a response to this thread, I wrote something that is somewhat appropriate for the readers of the tymshft blog.

Little-known story: after Newton Minow delivered his “vast wasteland” speech to the National Association of Broadcasters in 1961, he went into a bar and, after a few drinks, gave his “vastly wasted” speech. It went something like this:

“But if you think that television is a dumbing down of our population, just you wait until television gets married up with these computers that IBM and other companies are manufacturing. This will give the viewing public the ability to send a bunch of punched cards to their TVs, and then they will request their OWN programming. Instead of watching the pablum that the three networks feed to the masses today, the viewing public will get to demand their OWN danged stuff. And it won’t be pretty. They’ll want to watch television shows about cats playing the piano! And I don’t know if you’ve heard this weird music coming out of Detroit, but when they marry music with pianos, then you’ll have…you’ll have cats playing music on computers! With stupid lyrics like “turn the beat around” and “understand this groove” and “I’m too sexy for my shirt”! And the world will go to hell in a handbasket! And this will happen! … What do you mean I’ve had too much to drink? Mark my words, the 21st century will be terrible! No! Don’t make me leave the bar – I was ready to order another!”

This year’s version of the death of cable is kind of like the previous versions

I have been writing about the cable/satellite industry for several years now. This 2010 post in my Empoprise-BI business blog links to some of my earlier posts on the subject. The basic issue is that you have content providers (such as Comcast/NBC) and cable/satellite providers (such as Comcast), and the two factions are constantly at war with each other.

Those who believe that content is king have been saying to themselves, “What if we could eliminate the middleman and get the content directly?” Well, in some cases you’ve been able to do this for several years now. Back in 2010, I quoted from a Mike Johns comment on a Michael Hanscom post:

The coolest part of the Roku is what it means for the future of TV. I have already dropped my cable and pretty much watch all of my shows on Netflix. The other channels on the Roku, even the premium channels, make it worth the money. I spend 9 bucks for netflix, and 6 bucks on the kung-fu, cowoby classics and drive in movies – and that has replaced my $75 cable bill.

Since Mike Johns wrote that comment, Roku and others have provided complete direct access to content, and the cable and satellite providers have all shriveled away.

What? They’re still around? Whoops.

Obviously, cable and satellite providers aren’t going to just wither away when their lifelines are threatened. They need to maximize their profits for their shareholders, and they’ll do anything in their power to ensure that their business model remains viable. Earlier in this post, I alluded to the fact that Comcast, a cable provider, has purchased NBC, a content provider. It’s kinda like when tobacco companies buy food companies (remember RJR Nabisco?) – a company will do whatever it wants to continue to survive.

This hasn’t stopped people from trying to liberate content from the evil cable/satellite providers and allow it to run free. Jesse Stay has shared a Chris Brogan share of this story:

Newly launched website TakeMyMoneyHBO.com wants to send HBO a clear message: We love your shows. We’re willing to pay to watch them upon release. Now please, for the love of Winterfell, give us a way to do that — without forcing a cable subscription down our throats.

The expectation is that HBO will see this website and observe all the tweets – with hashtags! – and will suddenly and immediately tell the cable and satellite companies, “Thanks for all you’ve done for us for the past half century, but based on these powerful hashtags we’re going to go it alone.”

For some reason, I suspect that TakeMyMoneyHBO’s strategy will not be entirely successful. Wendy Cockcroft has noted that HBO benefits from the current system.

When the interviewer presses [HBO’s Eric Kessler] again about a stand-alone option, here’s what he has to say:

“We benefit from the existing ecosystem… from bundled cable TV packages… it’s important to keep that transactional machinery going. It’s about economics.”

Kessler says here that he’s doing better from an economical point of view in the current HBO strategy than he would if he opened up the content safe and let some goodies out into the cloud.

Some people think that piracy will drive content companies to create a new model that reduces piracy, but if content companies are making enough money under the old model, why change?

Now I still believe that it’s entirely possible that the middleman may be eliminated, but rather than cutting the middleman out entirely, perhaps the middlemen may continue to buy content providers just like Comcast did.

However, presently the old model is still very much alive, which means that if I want to see or hear a sporting event, more often than not I have to turn on a TV or a radio. With some rare exceptions, I can’t watch or listen to a sporting event over the Internet. We of the Internet just don’t pay enough money to get the rights.

Technology and the megachurch – or any church

I was struck by something when I was reading a 2009 post about a megachurch. For purposes of this post, I will ignore the theology of the megachurch in question – after all, Greg Laurie’s theology is very diferent from Joel Osteen’s theology – but I will note something that was said about the PRESENTATION. While reading this description, note that the author, Ben Myers, was actually present within the church itself.

Every moment of the service, from start to finish, was broadcast on to huge screens around the auditorium. When the pastor spoke, he would address one of the many cameras. When the worship-leader spoke to the congregation, he would speak into the camera. Even the heartfelt altar call at the end of the service was addressed to the camera.

But at one point Myers’ eyes strayed from the screens.

…towards the end of the church service I glanced down from the vast screen, and for a moment I glimpsed the flesh-and-blood pastor speaking passionately into the camera. It was strange to see the man standing there like this: a miniature version – touchingly flimsy and remote and insubstantial – of the real preacher whom I’d been watching on the screen. I felt embarrassed to have seen him like this – like the embarrassment of visitors at a hospital, who don’t know where to look – so I quickly averted my eyes, and returned my gaze to the big reassuring smile on the screen high above.

But this is not limited to the megachurch. Many years ago, I remember attending a church. I’ve forgotten the circumstances, and I don’t think that it was a megachurch, but I remember being struck by a thought – this looks just like a TV show.

Again I don’t want to get into a theological discussion here, but many churches of many different theological persuasions have incorporated not only certain technologies, but certain practices that are related to the use of those technologies. My own church, which is certainly not a megachurch in any sense and which does not include a video feed of the services, is one of several gazillion churches that makes heavy use of the greatest theological tool of the 21st century, Microsoft PowerPoint.

But the biggest technological change in church history is probably not PowerPoint, or the television camera, or online bank deductions for church offerings. The biggest technological change in church history (with the exception of the printing press) is voice amplification. Back in the 1700s, George Whitefield had to yell to be heard. Today’s pastor can speak in a much softer voice, yet potentially still be heard by thousands.

Wigging out

When comparing men and women, one complaint is that women spend too much time working on their appearance, while men are less vain about it.

The complaint is unfounded, and has been for centuries.

Take a look at any eighteenth century picture of people, and you’ll find that a lot of the men are wearing wigs.

Why?

Wigs were worn in colonial times to make class distinctions clear. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation explains that even the color of wigs could indicate class and position. Professionals frequently wore gray wigs; tradesmen usually donned brown wigs; white wigs were reserved for judges and military officers. White wigs were also worn for formal occasions, but many men simply powdered a colored wig white because they did not own a white wig.

And some men would have multiple wigs for different occasions. (We’ll return to this later.) To read more about eighteenth century wig habits, go here.

Of course, after we gained independence, the whole wig thing died down and has never been resurrected since.

Um, not exactly – especially in the entertainment world. Mental Floss listed a number of confirmed wig and toupee wearers, ranging from Bing Crosby and John Wayne to Howard Cosell and Ted Danson.

But the champion of 20th and 21st century wig wearing has to be Phil Spector. Long a man of questioned mental stability, Phil Spector’s trials provided watchers with a bizarre assortment of hairstyles. The Telegraph has gathered a variety of these styles together, as well as Spector’s natural look (from his prison mugshot), and shared them here.

As for me, I don’t wear a wig or a toupee. But perhaps I should consider it.

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