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Wednesday, April 24, 2013
The State of Streaming
So Netflix has had a good first quarter, exceeding expectations and crossing the $1 Billion revenue threshold. Stock prices have been skyrocketing, going from sub 100 to over 200 in just the past 4-5 months. Their subscriber base continues to grow, and fears that people would use the free trial to stream exclusive content like House of Cards, then bolt from the service seem unfounded. However, we're starting to see a fundamental shift in the way Netflix is doing business here. For the first time ever, I'm seeing statements like this:
As we continue to focus on exclusive and curated content, our willingness to pay for non-exclusive, bulk content deals declines.I don't like the sound of that, but then, the cost of non-exclusive content seems to keep rising at an absurd level, and well, you know, it's not exclusive. The costs have risen to somewhere on the order of $2 billion per year on content licensing and original shows. So statements like this seem like a natural outgrowth of that cost:
As we've gained experience, we've realized that the 20th documentary about the financial crisis will mostly just take away viewing from the other 19 such docs, and instead of trying to have everything, we should strive to have the best in each category. As such, we are actively curating our service rather than carrying as many titles as we can.And:
We don't and can't compete on breadth with Comcast, Sky, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Sony, or Google. For us to be hugely successful we have to be a focused passion brand. Starbucks, not 7-Eleven. Southwest, not United. HBO, not Dish.This all makes perfect sense from a business perspective, but as a consumer, this sucks. I don't want to have to subscribe to 8 different services to watch 8 different shows that seem interesting to me. Netflix's statements and priorities seem to be moving, for the first time, away from a goal of providing a streaming service with a wide, almost comprehensive selection of movies and television. Instead, we're getting a more curated approach coupled with original content. That wouldn't be the worst thing ever, but Netflix isn't the only one playing this game. Amazon just released 14 pilot episodes for their own exclusive content. I'm guessing it's only a matter of time before Hulu joins this roundalay (and for all I know, they're already there - I've just hated every experience I've had with Hulu so much that I don't really care to look into it). HBO is already doing its thing with HBO Go, which exlcusively streams their shows. How many other streaming services will I have to subscribe to if I want to watch TV (or movies) in the future? Like it or not, fragmentation is coming. And no one seems to be working on a comprehensive solution anymore (at least, not in a monthly subscription model - Amazon and iTunes have pretty good a la carte options). This is frustrating, and I feel like there's a big market for this thing, but at the same time, content owners seem to be overcharging for their content. If Netflix's crappy selection costs $2 billion a year, imagine what something even remotely comprehensive would cost (easily 5-10 times that amount, which is clearly not feasible).
Incidentally, Netflix's third exclusive series, Hemlock Grove, premiered this past weekend. I tried to watch the first episode, but I fell asleep. What I remember was pretty shlockey and not particularly inspiring... but I have a soft spot for cheesy stuff like this, so I'll give it another chance. Still, the response seems a bit mixed on this one. I did really end up enjoying House of Cards, but I'm not sure how much I'm going to stick with Hemlock Grove...
Sunday, April 21, 2013
Weird Movie of the Week: Gumiho
Last time on Weird Movie of the Week, we looked at a touching tale of trash men, accordions, and tiny third arms. This time, we've got tails. Lots of tails. It's called My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho:
After meeting a mysterious yet very beautiful girl, a wannabe action star discovers that she's, in fact, a gumiho -- a legendary fox with nine tails -- who longs to transform herself into a true human.Alright, so technically it's a TV show, but I think it sounds weird enough to qualify. The whole thing is available on Netflix Instant, so I guess I can add another show to my list...
Update: Kaedrin friend Dave points out that an even more amazing Korean series is available on Netflix Instant. It is called (I swear I'm not making this up), Vampire Prosecutor:
Prosecutor Min Tae Yeon transforms into a vampire, but he survives by drinking blood sold on the black market rather than by preying on the living. His special powers also give him an edge in solving murder cases.So he's a veggie vampire that uses his powers... in the court of law! Awesome. Added to queue.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself
A couple weeks ago, I mentioned that Ian Sales' novella Adrift on the Sea of Rains won the Short Fiction award at the 2012 British Science Fiction Association Awards. I mentioned that I didn't particularly love it, though I did find it very well written. And of course Ian Sales stumbled onto my post (and my old review), but he just seemed happy that I cared enough to write a review and even offered to send me a review copy of the next novella in the series (called the Apollo Quartet). I declined, opting to simply buy the book, as I know that every sale counts for self-published authors, and this time around, I found that I enjoyed the story much more.
The Apollo Quartet stories are basically alternate history speculations centering around the Apollo program, with some bigger SF tropes added in for flavor. Adrift on the Sea of Rains featured the brilliant premise of a large moon base witnessing the nuclear destruction of Earth. While I wasn't ultimately satisfied with the story, that premise (which I've only really given half of) is fantastic. The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself takes its time getting to the driving forces behind the story, but I ultimately found it a much more rewarding read.
The story follows Brigadier Colonel Bradley Elliott, USAF, as he is sent to investigate the possible disappearance of a human colony on an exoplanet. Twenty years earlier, Elliott was the first man to land on Mars. Something happened during that first trip to Mars that lead the higher ups to bring Elliott out of retirement and send him to investigate the exoplanet, but I won't ruin that excitement, and indeed, I may have already said too much.
I found the entire story much more enjoyable this time around. Elliott makes for a good protagonist, and there's much less angst here than there was in the previous story. Sales certainly knows his stuff, both from a technology standpoint and from a prose style standpoint. Even when he takes a scientific leap, such as the faster-than-light travel system used to travel to the exoplanet (which is 15 light years away), he seems to be able to ground it enough that it doesn't feel like a ridiculous affectation. I still find Sales lack of quotation marks around dialog to be a bit distracting, but it was also less notable here because there is less dialog (that, or I was just more engaged with the story and didn't notice as much).
I did get a little worried at one point when it seemed like the story had ended and a short little glossary came up, but when you get to the end of the glossary, there's an epilogue that contains the real kicker that was a real eye opener. That structure is a bit strange, but then, the glossary contains a lot of interesting info on the alternate history here (for instance, that's where we learn the details about how the Soviets landed on the moon first, thus inspiring the US to go to Mars), and the kicker in the conclusion does take on an added resonance when you've read some of the entries in the glossary. So where Adrift on the Sea of Rains started with a brilliant premise and trailed off (for me, at least), The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself takes a little time to get going, but ends with more satisfaction. I'd certainly recommend The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself if this sounds at all interesting to you (it's not closely tied to Adrift on the Sea of Rains, so no worries starting with the second installment either). Next up in the reading queue, the BSFA Novel award winner, Jack Glass (which has been in the queue for a while, but only recently became available in the US).
Sunday, April 14, 2013
I sure do seem to be leaning on these link dump posts of late, sorry about that, but things have been busy, so time for writing is sparse. By which I mean that I'm actually spending too much time faffing about in the internets, hence actually having a bunch of links to dump. Speaking of which:
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Recent and Future Video Gamery
So I've been pretty mum on video games of late, and there's a reason for that: I haven't been playing them much. I seem to have moved on for a while. For instance, those 50 books didn't read themselves. The last game I was really into was Mass Effect 3, but this dip in interest was already in full swing when I started that one (which did nothing to reverse the trend, sad to say). But maybe this sort of thing is cyclical, as I've started to get the itch for some video gamery again. What have I been fiddling with lately, and what am I looking forward to?
Sunday, April 07, 2013
I've had some ideas for longer posts lately, but the problem with that is that they're longer posts and thus take a while to write. I haven't really started any of them either, so there's that too. In the meantime, here's some links to stuff. Enjoy:
Wednesday, April 03, 2013
The nominations for the 2013 Hugo Awards were announced last week. The Hugos, while probably the most recognizable and representative award for science fiction and fantasy fandom, are also still, you know, awards. Like all awards everywhere and for everything, there is an inevitable and usually entertaining backlash consisting of usually pretty high profile folks railing against what they perceive as mediocrity. For a superb example of this sort of thing, see Christopher Priest's takedown of last year's Clarke Award nominees (the Clarke is a British SF&F award, and Priest's polemic hit especially hard since, you know, he's an upstanding author who has won the award in the past). Filled with just the right amount of invective and hyperbole that it's entertaining and funny without seeming like he's just some old crank. Will this year's Hugo backlash fare as well? It's still early in Hugo season, but things have certainly started off with a bang, as Justin from Staffer's Book Reviews asserts that the Hugos are "utter twaddle":
...the Hugo voter has a certain style it looks for in its fiction. Hugo-style, if you will, is like Gangnam-style only without the distracting Korean guy riding a horse, replaced with Charles Stross and Connie Willis on a podium holding a... rocket ship. I admit Gangnam-style doesn't have nearly as much sex appeal. In other words, Hugo nominated books tend to be recognizable. On the one hand because they are mostly written by Stross, Willis, John Scalzi, China Mieville, Robert Charles Wilson, Lois McMaster Bujold, Ian MacDonald, and active members of the Live Journal community, but also because they fit a certain motif that's difficult to pin down. I'll fall back on the old pornography argument, "I know it when I see it."So far, so good, and not too critical, though you can see the beginnings of his ultimate problem with the Hugos up there in that first paragraph. After giving two examples of worthy novels that weren't nominated (Elizabeth Bear's Range of Ghosts, and NK Jemisin's The Killing Moon), he starts to get to the heart of the matter.
Books like Bear's and Jemisin's are missing not because they aren't good enough or even because they aren't the kinds of books Hugo voters support, but because of an impenetrable culture of voting habits that precludes them from being part of the discussion. Those habits involve Lois McMaster Bujold, John Scalzi, and (of late) Seanan McGuire who are as likely to be nominated for a Hugo as Barrack Obama is to be heckled at the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo.In essence, anyone who follows the Hugos, even just in the Best Novel category, is bound to notice the same 6-7 names popping up year after year. The aforementioned Stross, Willis, Scalzi, Mieville, Wilson, Bujold, MacDonald, etc... It looks like we can add Seanan McGuire (aka Mira Grant) to the list, as she's made the shortlist for the past three years due to her Newsflesh trilogy of zombie books. And there are plenty of others who don't publish often enough to achieve that sort of repetition. The question that is being raised is not whether or not these are good authors, but whether or not every single work each of these authors produce needs to be nominated. The argument becomes a little more pronounced in some of the other categories, like the Dramatic Presentation, Short Form (i.e. TV shows):
....best dramatic short form can be summarized in one sentence: why does an award exist when 60% of the nominees year in and year out are from one creative enterprise?He's talking about Doctor Who, which has garnered at least 2 and usually 3 nominations per year since it was rebooted in 2006 (and has won the award every year except for one, when the Hugo went to another frequent nominee, Joss Whedon, for his admittedly worthy Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog). In fairness, as someone pointed out in the comments, this could very well be due to the way in which television is distributed. The Hugos are, technically, a worldwide award, and Doctor Who is actually distributed pretty well around the world, often airing at the same time or only a week or two later. Other shows air seasons in different years, etc... which makes it hard for some of them to gain traction. Anyway, similar arguments can be made for some of the other categories, some of which don't really change at all from year to year (particularly the "fan" categories, though I get the impression that that is a bit too insular for even me to care about).
It's a fair point. I mean, I know that Neil Gaiman is a good author, do we need to nominate everything the dude does? The post takes a pretty critical eye on recent Kaedrin favorite Lois McMaster Bujold, perhaps unfairly comparing her to Heinlein, but on the other hand, Justin is dead on when he wondered why Cryoburn needed to be nominated. I like the book just fine, but it's pretty clear why it was nominated: it was the first entry in a beloved series in 10 years. People were just so happy to spend some more time with (the admittedly great character of) Miles Vorkosigan that they just went and nominated the book, almost automatically. Again, I enjoyed the book, but I'd put it somewhere towards the middle of the pack of Bujold's work, nowhere close to that amazing late 90s run starting with the Hugo winning Mirror Dance and finishing with the Hugo nominated A Civil Campaign (which had quite stiff competition that year). I think you could make the same argument against this year's nominee, Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, though I think that one is a step above Cryoburn.
The problem with all of this, of course, is that there is no real solution. Sometimes an author legitimately goes on a tear of great writing. Justin seems to think highly of Heinlein, who went on his own tear of frequent nominations/wins in the late 50s and early/mid 60s. Will Bujold or Mieville prove to be as influential or long-lasting as Heinlein? Well, that's sorta missing the point, isn't it? I'm sure someone in the 60s was all "Heinlein is a good author, but what about all that weird polyamorous sex crap? Do we need to nominate him every year?"
To be perfectly honest, I don't read enough newly published SF/F to really say that this year's slate is good or bad. I've read two of the nominees: Redshirts and Captain Vorpatril's Alliance. I liked both of these books, and managed to read through them really quickly, but I would not have been surprised at all if they weren't nominated. It's not that they're bad - they're both good - but it's hard not to take Justin's point to heart. Are people nominating these books because they're really the best books, or because Scalzi and Bujold are super popular? Of the other three nominees, the one I'm most likely to read is 2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson (incidentally, this is his 5th nomination), and from what I've seen, I'd probably be better off reading Robinson's Mars trilogy. I'm not going to read Blackout because I'm fucking sick of zombies and it's the third book in a series, and Throne of the Crescent Moon is a fantasy, which is fine, but I'd rather spend my time catching up on other fantasy stuff.
So this post contains a lot of whinging and not a whole lot of real, genuine insight. I'm not really in a position to refute Justin's position, and I can certainly see that he's correct, but on the other hand, I don't know that it's the worst thing evar either. A lot of this seems like shouting at gravity to me. Yeah, you see a lot of the same authors from year to year. This is going to happen on a populist award list, and the authors do change over time. The grand majority of the frequent nominees mentioned in this post emerged in this century, with a few having started in the 1990s. Some (Seanan McGuire) have emerged in the past few years. I would certainly welcome fresh and interesting nominees, but it doesn't really bother me to see the likes of Scalzi and Bujold either. Ultimately, it's all a subjective enterprise, so while it's fun to read cranky responses to the ballot, we should probably keep in mind that just because something you don't like was nominated doesn't mean the whole enterprise is doomed.
And, just for fun, some miscellaneous thoughts on the Hugos:
Sunday, March 31, 2013
TV Shows I Should Probably Catch Up With
As 2013 progresses, I realize that I'm watching much less in the way of movies lately, and catching up with more television series. In terms of "appointment television", I still don't watch much, but I do like to catch up with some older seasons of good stuff, and streaming sites like Netflix are a big enabler on some of this stuff. So what are some things I should probably catch up with?
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