How HBO and Netflix Differ

HBO no longer stands alone. After consistently racking up more Emmy awards than any other network year after year, HBO found itself tied with Netflix for most wins for the 2018 Emmy Awards. And going into the ceremony, Netflix gained more nominations than HBO, with 112 for Netflix, 108 for HBO. Of course, Netflix is not the only rival to HBO’s dominance of television – Amazon and Hulu belong in the same class albeit as challengers, and traditional network television, while fading, is still alive, if not completely well. But the conversation about the future of television begins with HBO and Netflix. As HBO and Netflix shape the entertainment landscape, they reveal four crucial differences that help explain how they ascended to their elite levels:

  • HBO is a media company. Netflix is a technology powerhouse.
  • HBO changed how TV is made. Netflix changed how we view TV.
  • HBO creates game changers. Netflix makes crowd pleasers.
  • HBO is run by a captain of industry. Netflix is run by a digital celebrity.

For all the money that Netflix invests into content creation, it has never delivered anything like The SopranosDeadwood, or Game of Thrones – entertainment landmarks whose influence, like that of the Beatles, will be discussed many years from now. But perhaps Netflix doesn’t need to. The Emmy Awards continue to reward HBO for its blockbusters. But Netflix is now demonstrating that you can be a crowd pleaser and gain critical acclaim – not bad for a company that started producing content only six years ago. So far, there is one clear winner of the HBO/Netflix rivalry: the audience.

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Easy Rider

When I attended Southern Methodist University in 1981, I was an outsider. I did everything wrong. I wore a beard, long hair, and earrings. I studied a lot and wore dirty jeans. You just didn’t do these things at a preppy school in Dallas in 1981. So I hung out a lot alone.

During one night of solitude, I walked nearly two miles to the Highland Park Theater on Mockingbird Lane to watch Easy Rider. I’d never seen it before. The parking lot was teeming with bikers from all over Dallas dressed in denim and leather. Although I was not one of them, I felt more comfortable here. Together we watched Captain America and Billy drive their choppers across America. I don’t know the bikers felt about them, but I identified with the outsiders onscreen and the price they paid for not belonging. I identified the most with the quiet, introspective Captain America and his inner conflicts.

After the movie, well after midnight, I returned to campus, which required walking past wealthy homes on Mockingbird Lane. I didn’t very far before a police car pulled up to me, and a cop go out. I knew what was going on. He knew I didn’t belong, and he wanted to make sure I wasn’t a threat. He asked for my ID, and I produced a student card. He looked at me incredulously, as if to say, “What the hell are you doing here?” I was wondering the same thing. He drove off and left me alone in the dark.

Decades later, I still watch this movie about once a year. I’m sure I will when Easy Rider turns 50 in 2019. Although everything has changed for me since 1981, I still see myself in Captain America even though I don’t always know why. I don’t know the first thing about motorbikes. I stay away from drugs. I’m not into sleeping outside on the hard ground. But I understand the outsider.

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Deeper Magic

This summer, I forged a deeper spiritual connection with the Bristol Renaissance Faire, where I act on the weekends. The Faire, located just north of the Illinois/Wisconsin, recreates the city of Bristol in 1574. As I have discussed on my blog, Bristol is a place of strong magic, like Middle-earth, possessing a powerful spiritual force. Throughout the summer I commented on Facebook about Bristol’s spiritual pull even though I don’t expect everyone to understand what I’m talking about. Here are some of those posts culled from my Facebook page. I hope the words inspire you to find your own place of magic.

Diving into the Abyss (July 31, 2018)

Portrait credit: John Karpinksy

It’s one thing to get comfortable being uncomfortable, but quite another to dive into a terrifying abyss. On Sunday, performing as my Sir Nicolas Wright, I jumped up on a small stoop in the crowded Sun Garden of the Bristol Renaissance Faire with absolutely no game plan. I did so to force myself to get better at onstage improv. (I am far more comfortable with improv on the street in small groups.) I felt several eyes staring at me with “What is this guy doing?” looks. With the help of castmate and friend Kendal Monaghan, I just started riffing by reading people in the audience and reacting to their reactions. We ended up putting one patron on a mock trial for the crime of dragging a dead whale down the streets of Bristol. There is strong magic in Bristol that makes us do crazy, fun, and challenging things that reverberate in our souls, but the magic dust floats through the air for only nine weekends. We need to make each one count.  Continue reading

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Apple Flexes Its Healthcare Muscle

At Apple’s September 12 Special Event, the company continued to show off its growing healthcare superpowers with the release of the Apple Watch Series 4. The latest iteration of the Apple Watch, available September 21, unleashes new features designed to help people manage wellness. Those features include:

  • Creation of an ECG similar to a single-lead electrocardiogram. Using a new ECG app, watch owners can take an ECG reading from their wrists and receive heart rhythm classifications. The Apple Watch can classify if the heart is beating in a normal pattern or whether there are signs of Atrial Fibrillation (AFib). In addition, the data is stored in Apple’s Health app in a PDF that can be shared with physicians. In Apple’s words, “It’s a momentous achievement for a wearable device that can provide critical real-time data for doctors and peace of mind for you.”
  • The ability to detect when a person falls and report a falling incident to a designated emergency contact. Analyzing wrist trajectory and impact acceleration, the Apple Watch sends the user an alert after a fall, which can be dismissed or used to initiate a call to emergency services. If the Apple Watch senses immobility for 60 seconds after the notification, it will automatically call emergency services and send a message along with location to emergency contacts.
  • More fitness features. The Apple Watch already gamifies healthcare by rewarding users with special badges for completing fitness tasks such as walking. Now the Apple Watch allows users to challenge other Apple Watch wearers to complete fitness tasks. In addition, the device provides other features such as prompting owners to start workouts and accurately tracking active calories burned for activities such as hiking and yoga.

With the Apple Watch Series 4, Apple extends its reach into healthcare, following a strategy that the company has been pursuing for years.

The Data Backbone for Patient Care Continue reading

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Paul McCartney’s September Surprise

Great artists surprise you.

At this point in his life, Sir Paul McCartney has everything: fame, fortune, and enduring love from devoted fans at a global scale. He has created history. And yet, on “I Don’t Know,” the lead single of his new album, Egypt Station, he sings:

I got crows at my window, dogs at my door
I don’t think I can take any more
What am I doing wrong? I don’t know

Later in the song,  he continues:

Well, I see trouble at every turn
I’ve got so many lessons to learn
What am I doing wrong? I don’t know
Now what’s the matter with me?
Am I right? Am I wrong?

And this somber self-examination is first song on the album — Macca’s handshake to his listeners. With “I Don’t Know,” he reminds us of the Beatle who wrote the reflective “Yesterday.” On “Yesterday,” he sounded like a wounded youth. On “I Don’t Know,” he sounds like an older man, with his voice warbling and rasping a bit to suit the lyrics.

Paul McCartney’s ability to show emotional vulnerability has always been one of his strengths, whether confessing his fears and uncertainties in “Maybe I’m Amazed” or reflecting on a long dark night of the soul in “How Kind of You.” On his 18thalbum, Sir Paul is not celebrating his distinguished legacy with a victory lap. He’s still looking for ways to connect emotionally with a sea of strangers who may never know him.

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Drake’s “Scorpion” Defines Success in the Streaming Era — for Better or Worse

The glory years for the record album are over, but the record album isn’t dead yet. In the age of streaming, it actually might benefit artists to release long albums consisting of multiple tracks, as the success of Drake’s Scorpion demonstrates.

Drake released Scorpion on streaming services on June 29, and a compact disc released followed July 13. The CD is inconsequential. The real barometer of Scorpion’s success consists of streams. Within two weeks, Scorpion sold more than one million copies based on streams (per Billboard, 1,500 on-demand streams equals one LP).

Incredibly, all 25 of the album’s tracks hit the Billboard Hot 100 charts. As Rolling Stone explained, the long-form format of Scorpion– clocking in at one hour and 30 minutes – was crucial to the album’s success:

Drake’s supremacy on the Hot 100 was made easier by the popularity of music streaming. Because streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music charge a buffet-style monthly fee to listen to music rather than a per-song price à la iTunes downloads, long albums benefit artists by giving them more chances to rack up listens. Drake also partnered with Spotify for an all-out “takeover” of the platform in the days after his album dropped, which forced tens of millions of users to encounter his album. (They weren’t required to actually stream it – but the all-you-can-listen model of streaming services made it appealing and cost-free to do so, and the real estate on their homepage contributed to the average listener’s awareness Scorpion.)

Drake is not the only artist to capitalize on the vagaries of streaming. As Rolling Stone reported earlier this year, Migos released an album, Culture II, that clocked in at a whopping one hour and 46 minutes. Culture II debuted at Number One on the Billboard album chart. Culture II was eventually certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for combined sales, streaming and track-sales equivalent of a million units.

Because an album’s sales via streaming are measured by 1,500 cumulative streams, it behooves an artist to release a longer album with more tracks to stream, which can lead to Gold and Platinum status. These accomplishments still matter as a barometer of an artist’s marketability to corporate sponsors.

But releasing lengthy albums to encourage streams comes at a cost. Listeners have short attention spans in the streaming era. Reportedly, one quarter of all songs on Spotify are skipped within the first five seconds. The typical listener skips a song once every four minutes, and there is nearly a 50 percent chance that a song will be skipped before it ends. In addition, according to Midia, “58% of subscribers report listening to individual albums and tracks just a few times while 60% are doing this more than they used to because they are discovering so much new music.” Continue reading

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How Netflix Is Changing Your Behavior

Being a Netflix investor (which I am) is not for the faint of heart. Within the space of a few days recently, Netflix stock reached an all-time high, then fell off a cliff after Netflix reported disappointing quarterly earnings, only to rebound in stunning fashion the following day, before dipping the day after. The wildly gyrating stock price certainly makes for dramatic headlines. But the real legacy of the company is not its market capitalization but its ability to change human behavior.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is a market maker. Market makers do more than make money. They shape behaviors of people and companies. Netflix is undeniably shaping how people live going back to its founding in 1997. Along with Amazon, Netflix ushered in the era of on-demand living. If Amazon made it possible for people to buy things on their own terms, Netflix did the same for entertainment. Arguably Netflix and Amazon laid the groundwork for Uber’s disruption of the transportation industry through on-demand ride sharing. Together these companies ushered in an economy based on on-demand living.

A Cultural Phenomenon

The idea of giving viewers a digital catalog of movies to stream not only knocked Blockbuster out of business but made Netflix a cultural phenomenon as viewers embraced a new way of experiencing entertainment on demand. In 2009, Twitter users began using the phrase “Netflix and Chill” to describe the increasingly popular practice of simply hanging out with Netflix like a friend. Soon, “Netflix and Chill” became a euphemism for people hooking up to have sex, which is how we commonly think of the phrase today. The phrase “Netflix and Chill” became an internet meme and topic of much analysis and controversy. Netflix was shaping how we communicate as Google has done (“I’ll Google the movie time”). Continue reading

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With IGTV, Instagram Targets the Mobile Generation

The cool kids don’t hang out on Facebook anymore. So Facebook wants the cool kids to hang out on Instagram.

When Facebook bought Instagram in 2012, Instagram had less than 100 million users. Now the app counts one billion users, most of whom are millennials and digital natives, the demographic Facebook covets. Instagram continues to grow by making it easy and fun for users to tell visual stories, the language of the digital generation. Sometimes, Instagram copies Snapchat features as it did with the creation of Instagram Stories. Now Instagram is taking a page from YouTube’s playbook by offering longer-form video through the recently launched IGTV feature. Instead of having video limited to 30 seconds in length, users can create videos that are as long as 10 minutes (or an hour for larger, verified accounts). And Instagram is adding an important twist: the content is optimized for mobile.

A Mobile-First Experience

If you’re already creating Instagram main-feed videos and Instagram Stories, IGTV should be a snap to use. You simply hold your mobile phone vertically and record a video. Then you tap on the IGTV icon on your Instagram account and follow the prompts to upload and label the video. Note that when you record your video, you don’t hold the phone in horizonal fashion as you are probably accustomed to doing. That’s because IGTV is designed specifically for the way we naturally hold our phones and view content via the vertical format. IGTV videos look naturally rendered, taking up the entire screen rather than being bracketed by ugly, thick black borders that typically appear if you hold your phone vertically and create a video (which looks hopelessly uncool).

Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom said that the mobile format will set IGTV apart. “We’ve reimagined what video is on mobile,” he said in a livestreamed announcement. In a blog post, Instagram pointed out that by 2021, mobile video will account for 78 percent of total mobile data traffic – so a mobile-first video uploading and sharing experience is long overdue. Continue reading

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Thank You, Sir Paul

We needed Paul McCartney this past week. Fortunately, we got him.

This was the kind of week that made me want to declare a media blackout. The news was dominated by ugly reports about immigrant children being ripped from their parents and detained within our own borders. The music world, which often offers some relief from the harsh realities of everyday life, was instead the source of a horrible, unfolding story about the violent life and death of rapper XXXTentacion. As details emerged about his brutal treatment of other people before his own death during a robbery June 18, I was reminded that artists are also capable of behaving horribly.

For most of the week, my socials were awash with tweets and comments full of anger, despair, and shame from friends embarrassed and revolted by the family separation occurring at the U.S. border. But then something happened Wednesday that began to change the mood of the week for me: Paul McCartney released two new songs.

We hadn’t heard new music from Sir Paul since 2013. I was eager to know what he had been writing. Both the songs, “Come on to Me” and “I Don’t Know” gave me something new to think about besides current events.

“Come on to Me” sounded like a rollicking good bar song, with a big drum sound and a harmonica part that reminded me of Led Zeppelin’s “Poor Tom.” On the other hand, “I Don’t Know” felt like a reflective update to “Yesterday,” with Macca singing about seeing trouble at every turn and asking, “What am I doing wrong? What’s the matter with me?” The more somber “I Don’t Know” seemed to capture the mood of the week, as if Paul were saying, “I understand.” But “Come on to Me” reminded me of the power of his music to uplift. Continue reading

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Five Great Songs about Summer

Welcome to the season of sticky sno-cones, loud suburban street festivals, and music spilling out of open windows of fast cars. And music always makes the summer season. To celebrate the arrival of summer, check out these five great songs about el verano and make sure your playlist is up to date:

Hot Fun in the Summertime,” Sly and the Family Stone

Like so many great summer songs, “Hot Fun in the Summertime” is awash with nostalgia, recalling a fleeting romance that ends with the inevitable coming of the fall. But oh them summer days in between the end of the spring and the first of the fall! You can take the song to mean the literal arrival and passing of the summer months or read something deeper into the lyrics: growing older, looking back, and reflecting.

Summertime,” DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince

Drums, please! It’s time to kick back and unwind with a soft subtle mix while you cruise in your car. School is out. The temperature’s about 88. And you’re invited to a barbeque that starts at 4. What’s not to like? In “Summertime,” DJ Jazzy Fresh and the Fresh Prince take us to the Belmont Plateau in Philadelphia, where “Little boys messin’ round with the girls playing double-dutch/While the DJ’s spinning a tune as the old folks dance at your family reunion.” The song hints at a nostalgia we often hear in other summer songs, but it never loses its sense of time and place thanks to the smooth lead rap, vivid lyrics, breezy background vocals, and irresistible backbeat. You’ll keep coming back to the plateau. Continue reading

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