Wk30: Live Forever – Sequels, Reunions, Franchises and the never ending story.

Superman returns...again...and again

Disturbing numbers coming out of Hollywood. There will be a record for sequels this year – a whopping 28. It’s a figure that has rising steadily in the past few years. More disturbingly, things like Harry Potter 7b (essentially an 8), Fast Five, X-Men First Class (essentially another 5), etc makes the average sequel number 3.7.

How did we get here? Franchises seem to live forever these days. And maybe it has to do with digital technology making everything available. It’s never been easier to catch up one something.

Take reunions. With a band like Pulp in the CD era, people would have put away their CD copies of Different Class, occasionally bringing it out for nostalgia. In the era of iPods, many lapsed Pulp fans can carry around Pulp songs in their pockets every single day.

Every band in history is on equal footing. Every album ever made might as well be a new release. They are all equally easy to find. No wonder there is so much money in reunion shows. I’m not sure if bands can even break up anymore. Looks at artists like Pavement or the Pixies. Despite disappearing, their popularity never waned. They reunited to equal, if not bigger, audiences than ever.

Stock issues are disappearing. The idea that a record can fall out of print is outdated. In the 90s and the 00s, it was kinda hard to get Pixies albums in Australia (compared to say Britney).

There are a bunch of golden albums that used to never go out of print, and would be discovered by every generation. Be it Tapestry for thoughtful young women, or the first Violent Femmes album for nerdy young boys. And even the smallest CD store would stock them. Now there is no such thing. Every album is a golden album ripe for rediscovery.

I used to carry CDs in my school bag. I’d fill it with anything I might want to listen to. But no school bag can fit as much as an iPod. And soon those iPods will be streaming from an infinite harddrive in a cloudy sky.

The same used to apply to old movies. From hoping something would be re-run on TV to searching for a DVD at a shop. There was always limits. But no more. There is an infinite database of films online.

Which is why sequels work better than ever. I have friends who have just caught up on all seven Harry Potter films in just the weeks leading up to the 8th. It is the reason films like Fast Five can exist. Because Fast One to Four are so easy to get.

It goes on. Look at reboots. The first Scream movie never fell into an oldies film. Freddie Krueger never died. Even Wall Street was given a sequel 23 years later. Why invent a new brand to discuss the financial crisis? Just use the one that everyone still talks about.

Then there’s good old “nerdstalgia”. Transformers used to be so 80s. Now it’s the biggest franchise there is today. This year, both the Muppets and the Smurfs are back on the big screen. Nothing ever dies.

TV Shows of course fall into the same category. Although huge gaps exist, so many TV shows live online. Most are at unreasonable prices, but hey, that’s how you give birth to a piracy market.

You can always catch up to the story. Season 4 of Breaking Bad is out and you’ve not seen the first 3? It’s really not a problem anymore. Hell, you could have been waiting to be born when the first Harry Potter film came out and you’re probably the target audience for the new one.

Slightly ironic that the very first physical format – print – is the last to drag itself into the digital world. But you can see it going the same way as it’s louder and brighter cousins. Books will never go out of print. They will be instantly accessible to anyone who wants them. The stories will never get old.

This new world brings with it some new concerns. Making something that’s timeless pays off. Flash in the pan also never dies, but who’s going to be looking for it? You don’t need to go back at watch some shit network sitcom because they still make those. But the Sopranos will remain timeless.

What happens to plot twists. I don’t know how it would feel to try and watch Lost now. I think it’s widely known that the ending was a let down. With a show so structured towards an ending, does it lose something?

Then there is the big fight over copyright issues, and when things fall into the public domain. When the UK write copyright rules that allowed people to own their music for 50 years, no one thought Paul McCartney would be one year away from losing the rights to Love Me Do. Or, indeed that ANYTHING 50 years old would have any value.

Public Domain is a funny thing. And I think, on the whole, if something falls into Public Domain, it is terrible for that thing. Because the old arguments about it being free and easy to access are gone. We have solved the access issue. And it just means anyone can make money off someone’s work. No one is going to give it to you for free.

(One of my favourite movies ever – Charade – is one of the more interesting copyright cases around. Many cheap DVDs are no better than people filming shaky cameras in a theatre. But it’s legal to sell that. Proper prints with decent quality are hard to find because they are hard for anyone to sell any.)

The UK are seeking an extension to be in line with the US – 100 years (or so). There needs to be a worldwide consensus because we are dealing with the worldwide web. There is an argument that those rules need to be more lax (in regards to thing like sampling). But really – do they not imagine another Muppets movie in 50 years time? Maybe 100 is not enough.

Are we ever going to forget anything again?

Reboots have become part of our popular culture now. I think the idea was perfected in the comic book world. Bit reboots are getting sooner and sooner. Including the upcoming Avengers film, there will be three Hulks in ten years. Each one a reboot to some degree.

I find it interesting that people can just decide that OK, we are now starting again. Forget the past. This is a new Star Trek. This is a new Spiderman. Is anything sacred?

Franchises are worth more and more. Bands reform to take advantage of it. What happens when HBO realises that another generation has discovered the Sopranos? Will they remake that too?

It’s all up for grabs. Nothing ever dies. The idea that they could recast Star Trek means that they can recast anything. Imagine Star Wars movies picking up after Return Of the Jedi. Why not? We are getting new Spidermen, Supermen and Hulks. The next Batman movie is not even out and they have already announced a reboot to follow. Anything to keep the brand alive.

Try to imagine a situation where they would cancel the Simpsons. They could replace the voices. Get in a whole team of new young writers and producers. Reinvent the show for a new current audience. Use technology to make it cheaper to make. Really, maybe that show will outlive me. And all of us.

With so much information out there, the problem is not finding entertainment. It’s finding something you like. Filters will be the next big thing.

What do my friends recommend. What lists tell me what the greatest movies are. What the hell should I watch next?

It is the next big question in our cultural lives.

http://www.npr.org/2011/07/01/137502459/hollywoods-got-a-bad-case-of-sequelitis-this-year

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Wk28: Here’s To the Future: Extreme Computing Today

Our future is here...or is it?

Computers are becoming part of our every day lives. What seemed unachievable and high sci fi, we now carry around in our pockets. Be it video chatting like the Jetsons or a Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy in an iPad, it seems like the future is here.

But there is more future to find. So much technology becomes part of our every day lives, it’s fun to keep an eye on where computing is taking us that is not every day. Supercomputers and technology that is far beyond iPhones and Facebook. The cutting edge of what we are doing with computers as a species.

Supercomputers.

Last month, a new supercomputer was crowned. K, based in Japan, is now the most powerful computer in the world. It is three times the computer of the former number one, and more powerful than the next five combined. We are dealing with ten petaflops of computing power – a term that sounds insane, and is roughly a million times more powerful than my Mac laptop.

It is, of course, expensive and power intensive. It needs the power of 10,000 houses and costs $10 million US a year to run. It’s purpose? A varied assortment of environmental calculations. Counting the minute changes in our weather, with every particle a variable.

In fact, many supercomputers are used to study our climate. Even something as mundane as weather is beyond our calculation abilities. So we are increasing them. The top of the Top500 list, the list of the most powerful computers in the world, changes almost every time it’s published.

Sadly for our climate, there is a Green500, a list of the most environmentally friendly supercomputers, and it doesn’t match the Top500. The best computers we have are also the most energy hungry and damaging to our environment. K takes a lot of power to run, and even more power to cool.

Still we build. Companies like IBM, with many supercomputers on the Top500 list, persevere, to some degree making better computers for computer’s sake.

Artificial Intellegence

IBM are an interesting company. They just turned a whopping 100 years old this year. They helped to pioneer computer mainframes and building stunning calculating towers. But in a industry full of nerds, they were the nerdiest. In the 90s, the home computer started to take hold. Silcon Valley filled up with hot shots in jeans, and IBM scientists still wore suits and coats. I mean, they invented the barcode. Now they are all about high computing.

The idea of computing for computing’s sake thrives at IBM, to this day. And they’ve been playing around with Artificial Intellegence for over 50 years. An IBM computer could learn from it’s mistakes in the game of checkers in 1956. In 1997, Deep Blue made international papers by beating world champ Gary Kasparov at chess.

This year, IBM took AI back into watercooler talk when their computer, named “Watson”, appeared on Jeopardy and won (against two Jeopardy champs). It was not connected to the net, but had lots of information stored (including all of Wikipedia). From simple questions, it managed to use the data it had stored and supply an answer.

Watson wasn’t perfect, but a door is opened. What if Watson was connected to the internet? And it learnt from it’s mistakes?

Still, Watson is a lot like a search engine. What about emotion? Well, we are learning more and more about human emotions. And that learning is being analysed in computers as well.

The wonderful TED always has time for robots. Be it David Hanson’s robot face that shows emotion on the surface, or Heather Knight’s stand up comedian robot that can react to the crowd and shape it’s act internally.

Computers can learn. They can react. They can even make you laugh. It is only a matter of time before they take over. I for one will welcome our new robot overlords.

Consumer spaceships

The Apollo 11 Lunar Module had a computer. It had 76kb of space and 4kb of RAM (sort of). My Facebook profile picture is bigger than 76kb. Mac laptops come in 4GB RAM configurations – a million times the Lunar Module.

Why the hell can’t we get back to the moon then? Seems like it’s a matter of economics (NASA ended their shuttle program this year). But whereas governments continue to de-invest in space exploration, we are seeing a private market emerge. And it’s technology making spaceships more powerful – and cheaper – then ever.

International treaties state that no one owns outer space – it belongs to us all. But you can definitely sell a trip there. The most famous seller is Richard Branson, and his Virgin Galactic project.

It is just like you’d imagine. Branson is using his fortune to build spaceships. For a cost, you can go too. I saw a replica of the first spaceship at the Science Museum in London, and it looks more like the Heathrow Express than Apollo 11.

OK. It friggin blows my mind that one day I might make it to space. It costs about $200,000 to go right now, and trips have not started yet. Right now, the current ship can only take you into the region of space, not into orbit above our planet. But orbit is the goal. I am thirty now, and let’s say I am still fit to go by 50. Orbital commercial flights could be reached by then. And I would gladly sell everyone of my earthly possessions for just 1 second of seeing both poles at once.

Or maybe I’ll even have some buying power as competitors are popping up. Now that Google’s mapped the world, some feel like space is the next great holiday destination. And they are investing heavily. I wonder what zone it will be for a travelten.

And there’s so much more. Mapping the super-micro world of sub atomic particles. Seeing other universes with extreme cameras. The Large Hadron Collider making black holes in our own atmosphere.

One of the things I teach in my Digital Marketing class is to be aware that numbers grow. We used to be impressed by 10,000 YouTube views, because we were impressed by 10,000 CD sales. Now we deal with millions of page views. Soon, calculating files in megabytes will be gigabytes – or petabytes.

It might seem crazy numbers, but your current computer speeds and space must have seemed crazy just 20 years ago. Maybe in 20 year time, you will be able to calculate every particle in our atmosphere in an app on your phone.

Top500 – http://www.top500.org/

Green500 – http://www.green500.org

No more space shuttles – http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/177136/20110709/nasa-space-shuttle-program-shuttle-launch-spacex-next-generation-richard-branson-virgin-galactic.htm

Virgin Galactic – http://www.virgingalactic.com/

Wk27: DC Comics and Doing Digital Right

DC Comics embraces technology, eh?

Looking back, as an industry, the music industry made awful decisions when the digital revolution came along and have been catching up ever since. It happened, and there’s only one reason to dwell on it – to learn from those mistakes.

Looking at the film and TV industry, one wonders if they are learning those lessons. Legal digital alternatives simply don’t exist in many parts of the world, leading to illegal files online, feeding the piracy market. The pricing is ridiculous, the release date lags, etc, etc.

So what is the right way to transition into the digital space?

It seems DC Comics is trying to work it out for the comic industry. They have made big plans to enter the digital space in a big and bold fashion. And they’ve learnt from other’s mistakes. Is it enough?

September 2011 will be a big day in the history of DC Comics. The company is basically starting again. Every comic they put out is being cancelled. 52 new titles are launching with new #1 issues. Batman, Supeman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Aquaman and more – all start again.

But it’s not just the titles. DC Comics have slowly been looking at every part of their business, and will revamp that as well.

It is the real life version of a theoretical thinking game someone taught me about business. If you were to create your business today, what would you do?

Many industries – music not excluded by any means – rely on old systems and old technology. I’ve dealt with CD inventory programs that runs on VGA graphics – and that was last year! VGA graphics went out in 1995! Some record companies use Word 2003 – an 8 year old program.

And yes, they work fine. But if you were starting from scratch, those programs don’t exist anymore. How would you build it? How would you deal with retail? How would you write your artist contracts? Heck – what day of the week do you release and why?

What would you do without the burden of history?

Well, DC Comics are doing this:

(I’m going to look at what DC does, how it compares to what Music does, and then consider what film might do)

Digital Day And Date

Comics have been flirting with digital for a couple of years now. Some bigger titles are available on Apps for the iPad. A small selection of older stories. A few free comics to entice readers.

The reason for this is obvious. A big business was slowly changing. Popular titles are essentially low-risk to experiment with. Digitising takes time and so priorities must be made. There’s no sales history so tentative steps must seem wise.

But fuck that. Come September, all DC titles go digital on the day of release. No delays. No exceptions.

I applaud DC for this. I imagine they had to restructure all their production deadlines to make sure everyone gets finished artwork in on time to digitise.

With Music, it is still a challenge to get deadlines right. It has not been uncommon for me to ask for albums 8 weeks before release date. Part of this is because a more complicated digital market for Music exists (for one, you can pre-order music).

Also, we are still waiting for a handful of musicians to “go digital”. It’s been 10 years and a slow road to get everyone on board. Many artists and their managers gave digital a wait and see approach. And while a lot of it is on iTunes, labels are now hesitant with Spotify. If you label hasn’t pulled out completely, artists can opt out if you have a friendly contract.

It is a vast contrast. Music’s hesitant toe dipping compared to DC Comic’s one-in/all-in. I think the DC way is more exciting, especially for the consumer. How many times have you been shitted off by not finding a band on iTunes, or Spotify or some other service (so you then go and pirate it).

And now film is in the same boat as music. Sure, their businesses are far bigger. But why isn’t every film ever on iTunes? And why, crucially, aren’t they there the same day it hits cinemas?

No Promos

This is a big one, and an awesome one. DC Comics are not sending out issues in advance. Sure, you want retailers to know the comics well enough to order them. You want people to review them so people will buy them. But the other side is the bigger price – promotional copies lead to piracy.

Will the world fall apart without promos? No. But DC will have to build better relationships with retailers so they will order their books. They need to be more transparent about their plans. They will need to drown the internet with promo art, interviews and publicity to build hype. But most importantly, they will have to build a business around people hearing word of mouth after release date and buying books that are weeks old.

Again, think of Music.

For everyone album on a major, there’s hundreds if not thousands of copies doing the rounds before release date. Music is serviced to journalists, retailers, radio stations, promoters and more. And that’s why every album hits the web before release date.

This is where the big hole of piracy starts. And it’s a big hole to fill, but Music can get there. Why do people need copies so far in advance? I think 80% of people get promos just because they are there. Sure, Rolling Stone needs it to review for the issue around release date. But bookers (for example) can wait if a show isn’t coming up for a while, no?

It’s a big change, but we are going to need it. And go back to a time when records CLIMBED the chart. And magazines told you what people thought was hot, not just an exclusive bunch of journos. And radio play songs that you can buy.

Film has a bigger challenge. Cinema is kind of the promo CD for the movie business. Cameras snuck into cinemas make pirated DVDs. And they make their way online too. People go out of their way to NOT see movies at the cinemas. Give ‘em a digital bone.

Working with retail

Another hurdle for the industry is the power of physical retail. They have, traditionally, taken digital technology as the enemy of what they do (as more stores close, it’s hard to argue). With a majority of money still coming from physical goods, they hold a lot of power. If JB Hi-Fi takes offense at your online strategy, they can simply not stock your record.

DC Comic’s are encouraging retailers to work with digital. Comics retail is a bit more sober than Music – I think they know they will lose a part of their audience to digital comics. But DC are offering polybagged comics WITH download codes at higher prices to entice readers.

More importantly, with digital distributor ComiXology, they are allowing stores to sell digital comics on their own website. The stores even make a decent margin (30%), if it’s a dedicated DC Comics store. That wont be hard as DC’s the only one doing it.

I was working at a record company in the early 00s, and we’d get calls from small retailers about digital. How do we get a kiosk in our stores? How do we sell mp3s? These small stores had the desire, and their size gave them flexibility. They also had the foresight to see they sold music in all forms, unlike the bigger chains.

But the technology for affordable kiosks or branded webstores did not exist in 2001. They do now for comics. Actually, they do now for Music. So all those small record stores went away, but comic retailers and DC Comics both share a stake in seeing digital comics succeed.

Price

For the first four weeks, to appease physical retail, digital and physical comics will have the same price. After that, they drop a dollar. Music does this, although with CD prices continuing to plummet, iTunes is starting to seem quite expensive again.

But for Movies, there is a large disparity. Pricing is more complex, but they have to set standard pricing across their digital offerings now. It is all over the shop, and too expensive.

DC has had time to look and reinvent it’s price structure. So once again, for music and movies, if we were to start again today, what is the price?

…and more

DC have also revamped their delivery process. They are offering physical only variants. Video trailers for instore play. A new returns policy. Editorially, they are bringing in new characters, modernising others. Better still, they are bringing more diversity to this fictional universe.

I’m in. I’ve always been more of a DC fan than Marvel. There is only one decent comic store left in Sydney, and it’s a pain to get to. But I can get comics for $2 on my iPad. That’s three for the price of a beer. Bring on some freebies to entice me on new titles. Maybe cheap collections of older books. And subscriptions so I don’t even have to think about it.

Will I miss my physical comics? I don’t buy that much anymore. But if DC do their job right and do nice editions with bonuses of great books, then I will buy my faves. If not, I bought them once already anyway. Who cares about the paper other than the trees.

Odd that DC comics is owned by Warner Brothers, who has a Music and Film and other publishing arms. All of them are going through the same birthing pains. Will they learn from DC?

Or perhaps this could all fail. Perhaps this is not a viable model, and tentative steps turn out to be the right one. We’ll see. But it’s certainly an exciting risk. And I applaud the breadth of DC’s vision and the size of their balls.

 

DC Comics New 52 Retailers Pitch – http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=33078