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Why Television and Radio Won’t Die

Last night I started watching The Wolverine. Before you judge, let me state that it happened to be on Amazon Prime, and I’ve read, re-read and indeed re-purchased the Wolverine Graphic Novel after mistakenly lending it to people over the years.

It was late and I was weak.

In fact it was late enough that about half of the way through the film I decided to take a break and get some sleep. So when I stopped working to grab some lunch today, it seemed like a good time to finish the film off. Except that I couldn’t.

The process went something like this:

  • Go to Amazon Prime Video and search for Wolverine, as the main pages only want to show me new films/TV shows.
  • Click to view.
  • Wait ages.
  • Get a Silverlight error message.
  • Try again.
  • Get the same Silverlight error message.
  • Sigh deeply, then go to Settings, and select the Flash player.
  • Go back to Amazon Prime Video and get a Silverlight error message. Return to settings, and back to the video and then it loads in Flash.
  • Watch approximately 2-3 minutes of the film with 60 second intervals for it to buffer.
  • Go back to Settings, revert to Silverlight and spend a minute or two reading the Troubleshooting Guide.
  • Download the Silverlight Diagnostic Tool as recommended and watch as it fails to find the problem.
  • Restart Router. Restart PC.
  • Realise that I’ve finished my lunch and gone way over the time I’d planned to spend.
  • Cry a little inside.
  • Decide to give it one last try just to see what happens. Silverlight etc doesn’t have a problem, but in the process I seem to be watching the film from the beginning again
  • Cry a little more inside.

And this is exactly why broadcast television and radio won’t die.

Television

In order of problems viewing:

  • Amazon Instant Video – 1-2 problems per month
  • Virgin Media Digital Box – 1 problem every few months
  • Broadcast TV and Radio – I can remember 1 problem when someone stole cabling supplying one of the transmitters in Peterborough a few years ago.

But it’s not as simple as blaming Amazon, Netflix, Hulu or Youtube for a poor video experience.

Or Silverlight, Flash or HTML5.

Or Virgin, Sky, BT or other ISPs.

Or someone else in the house using a different device for gaming, streaming or downloading Wikipedia en masse.

Or all the neighbours deciding this is the exact time they all want to stream something as well.

Because the problem with internet television and radio is that it could be any part of the chain that causes an issue, and generally it’s down to the individual to figure it out.

The rationale is easy to understand – no service can provide effective troubleshooting for every individual combination of internet, viewing device and browser. But even as someone who has picked up reasonable technical knowledge over the years, it’s a massive pain in the arse.

Is it the software, the browser, the PC,  the wifi, the router, or the ISP? The diagnostics told me it was Silverlight, my observations were that my connections seemed to be running slowly, and restarting an entirely different piece of hardware fixed everything, and Silverlight runs fine again.

*facepalm*

Meanwhile I can turn on a television or radio in a matter of seconds and enjoy whatever is available with simplicity and reliability. And if there’s a problem viewing, it’s either:

  • The TV is broken. Replace.
  • The transmitter is broken.
  • The end of the world has begun.

I love streaming films, TV and music on-demand, and accessing shows and artists I’d have never discovered and spent money on. But it’s hard to defend something which takes a working knowledge of IT to operate.

It’s why I worry about Net Neutrality, and the horrific idea that the EU could be moving towards accepting a two-tier internet. Access to a decent broadband speed is an infrastructure required by everyone – without it you limit the ability of individuals and startups in favour of the dominant players being able to mask the fact their services are inefficient.

It’s why I worry about curbing the BBC as a free-to-air service which is able to share information, education and news to anyone regardless of their devices or ISP.

And it’s why a part of me worries every time Spotify unveils new features, or Amazon tries to deliver a new technological innovation. Because it means that there are less people working in the boring ‘Just make it work’ department.

Years ago, I would have happily predicted the imminent demise of print and broadcast media in favour of digital services. All this time later, and I’m still waiting for something approaching reliability to make it conceivable.

On the plus side, the original comics are still awesome. And still work perfectly 33 years after they were first released.

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Technology, regulations and innovations

Google has just released a video revealing their work on a drone delivery system, named Project Wing, which has been undergoing testing in Australia.

What struck me was that obviously Australia makes sense in terms of a testbed for large distances and potentially isolated customers, but also perhaps somewhere which isn’t tightening up regulations on drone flights as quickly as in the U.S and UK.

After all, in the U.S, the FAA has already banned the use of drones to deliver packages.

Meanwhile it’s likely Amazon will start actually delivering products via drones in India in the near future, according to reports.

Obviously there are safety implications in drone flights, along with other potential problems and hazards to overcome. But it seems that the response in the UK and U.S is rapidly becoming one in which governments and law enforcement agencies are undoubtedly increasing their drone usage all the time, but private companies and individuals are going to find themselves more and more restricted in what they can do.

That’s not only got implications for the innovation possible by those private concerns, but also how that feeds into advancements which governments might want to utilise. If India leads the way in drone deliveries, it’s going to lead the way in drone technology too.

In the meantime, I’ll be left waiting for a service which can deliver grilled steak tacos to my house every day for lunch.

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Is Amazon killing Lovefilm?

I’ve been a Lovefilm subscriber for years now. Originally I shared an account with my ex-girlfriend, but when I moved into my own place, I went for one of the top packages.

The main reason for my choice was videogame rental. There are several options for streaming films online, but Lovefilm was the only option which also allowed me to rent Xbox 360 games, and given the relatively high purchase price for new titles, it seemed a more than reasonable investment. Especially as it would allow me to cover more games for my various websites.

I hadn’t seen the news that Lovefilm announced new customers would be unable to sign up for videogame rental last week, but I certainly noticed the email I received to tell me that as an existing customer, Game Rentals will end on August 8th, and I’ll be moved onto a different package.

 

No logic for Lovefilm?

I don’t work at Lovefilm or have any involvement in their business decisions, but I can venture some guesses why the decision has been made.

Until very recently, Microsoft was very determined to lock down access and sharing of games on the forthcoming Xbox One platform – that stance has softened since the big E3 videogame show due to the wide backlash, but it’s a sign of changes in the videogame industry. Publishers have long been concerned about sharing and secondhand sales which do not generate any direct revenue, so the combination of publishers and a major console manufacturer may have convinced Lovefilm that the future is purely in digital releases, and the hassle of purchasing and sending out disc copies wasn’t worthwhile.

By the same token, Amazon has recently merged Lovefilm and Amazon accounts. Taking a more active role with Lovefilm may have included the fact that videogame rentals detract from the sale of new and secondhand games via Amazon. Given the relative price difference and purchase habits of gamers versus film fans, it’s probable that rental takes a larger chunk of prospective purchases and revenue – as someone is ‘borrowing’ a £40 game vs a £10 film. In the case of the new consoles, Amazon is currently listing games at £54.

Presumably that difference is greater than the loss from ex-game rental customers who are being moved onto slightly cheaper packages – in my case the automatic saving is around £36 per year.

 

No Love for Lovefilm:

There’s been a fair amount of outcry regarding the decision on various gaming sites. Personally, I had intended to stay with Lovefilm indefinitely, particularly with new consoles arriving this autumn. While I may be able to justify a console and a game or two at launch, I certainly hoped to rent a significant amount of the new games.

But looking at my new Lovefilm package, I’d automatically be paying £9.99 per month for 2 discs per month + unlimited streaming. Given than more than 50% of the titles on my rental list are games, and will therefore no longer exist, I could save £5 more a month for streaming only.

So Lovefilm has just gone from:

  • 12 x 12.99: £155.88 annual revenue
  • 12 x 4.99: £59.88 annual revenue

That’s a loss of £96 per year Lovefilm will have lost from me personally, whatever happens. But now I’ve looked at the subscription costs, and weighed up the value I get from the current streaming selection.

Netflix is around the same price for streaming, and with a 1 month free trial it’s probably worth me trying them to see how their digital selection compares, which I wouldn’t have previously considered.

NowTV seems pretty expensive at £15 per month for films.

But actually, there may be a third option. I’m a big fan of accessing digital entertainment via subscription services, and all my music and film purchases have pretty much been replaced for the last few years. But the changes and restrictions have made me more motivated to finally invest in a decent amount of digital storage and get around to backing up copies of all the entertainment I own to be able to stream throughout my house.

That potentially gives me £155.88 to spend on DVDs, and around £120 a year to spend on CDs (Cancelling Spotify). And there are plenty of games, films and CDs to be found in secondhand and charity shops which will keep me entertained for the significant future…

Things to consider, along with the widely-reported faff of cancelling, which involves having to phone Lovefilm Customer Support….

 

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Magic in everyday technology…

If you’re not familiar with Arthur C Clarke’s ‘Three Laws‘, they’re well worth knowing…

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic

It’s number 3 that I was reminded about today. Of all the modern gadgets and technology I use, probably the most magical thing to me is still buying a Kindle book from Amazon.

As someone who has spent countless hours in bookstores, libraries and comic book shops it’s still very strange that I can go to Amazon.co.uk via a link from a recommendation, select 1-Click purchase, and the next time I happen to carry my Kindle anywhere near my router, that book will almost instantly appear on it, ready to read.

It’s a good reminder anytime I get jaded or cynical. And gives me a magic level to aspire to with my work…