Sunday, November 25, 2012

Paying for TV isn’t going away. Same story, different URL.

Something happened on election night that flew under the radar of most TV networks. CNN garnered nearly 9 million viewers. But according to TheTVNews.TV, 10 million people chose to get their election coverage via streaming Web video provided by ABC-Yahoo in a joint feed.

This could be the tipping point for what we consider traditional television. You know, you turn it on, select a channel and sit back and watch in your family room courtesy of your antenna, satellite or cable. But now, you can dial up a lot of TV on your tablet, even if you don’t have cable access.

If you watched the University of Notre Dame football game Saturday night, you saw all the promos for ESPN Apps. They allow you to watch the game on the wall and another contest with the app in your lap. This is picture-in-picture on steroids.

The Big Ten Network promotes Big Ten to Go. HBO Go offers similar benefits. If you have HBO with your cable or satellite subscription, you can get the network’s entire archive on your device, whether that's a desktop computer or a smartphone.

And the Apps are free. So, where’s the rub?

Here’s my prediction, within a couple years, ESPN, HBO, Showtime and even broadcast networks will offer to sell you subscriptions directly. They’ll sidestep cable and satellite companies and offer more and more content via the Web, whether you access it through cellular service or a hardline.

Over-the-air broadcasting will make a brief comeback for live sports and events like the Oscars. You’ll put an antenna on your roof while you dish the dish and make Xfinity your x. The Web will connect you with most of your regular shows and you’ll buy the rest on demand and on impulse. That’s why Comcast bought NBC Universal.

One other scoop from my media crystal ball. Since you won’t need a broadcast license or a network to start a show, look for a mini explosion of viral, local programs about news you can use close to home.

It’s not a matter of if, just when. Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Waves of gratitude flow from the box office to your holiday table.

The end of the year has a way of bringing out the worst in some of us. Families get together for the holidays in the name of tradition that sometimes becomes onerous obligation. Often the anxiety starts weeks before, until it climaxes over the giblets, gravy and pumpkin pie, as heartburn and gall deck the halls.

But there’s a movie debuting in the U.S. this December 21 that will give any viewer some perspective on real family problems and an attitude of gratitude. “The Impossible” recreates the gripping, real-world drama of a family that survived the 2004 South Asian tsunami. That’s right, it’s based on the true story of two parents and their three sons who miraculously escape sheer obliteration and savage evisceration at the hands of a most merciless and unpredictable natural enemy. Eight years ago, an undersea earthquake triggered an Indian Ocean tidal wave that wiped out communities in 14 nations and killed over 200,000 people the day after Christmas.

Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor and three handsome and remarkably talented lads deliver riveting performances in depicting the Owens family, the quintet that vacationed in Thailand, only to endure the massive waves that suddenly swelled to 30 meters. The special effects are beyond realistic, the sound design mesmerizing and the search to reunite the scattered family is one of Biblical proportions.

The studio, Summit Entertainment, a Lionsgate Company, sent me an advance review copy of the film for the purpose of voting on upcoming Hollywood movie awards. On the heels of Hurricane Sandy, this true story makes an especially powerful and poignant impact and underscores just how fragile life is and how blessed we are every day we evade tragedy.

So, when any of your relatives says or does something thoughtless this Thanksgiving, Christmas or any other time, be grateful you’re alive to endure their company and appreciate the qualities that make them unique.

Savor every moment, whether rare or burnt to a crisp. Happy Holidays.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Musical rewind: turning time backward is sounding better by the minute

I’m having an affair.

It started innocently enough. Our old receiver/audio controller died and I had to buy a new one to enjoy music and HDTV in stereo. Of course, that meant a digital system as opposed to the old analog setup.  When I plugged our old school turntable into the new device, the sound was thin and scratchy. A little Web research revealed the source of the problem. Digital sound systems don't include preamplifiers in the phonograph jack. In fact, there are no designated inputs for phono.

Now there was no way my wife, Ellen, and I were going to blow off our collection of vinyl records. Jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, classical, blues, Christmas, even an antique 78 rpm recording of Charles Lawton as Captain Ahab in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, circa 1946 on the Decca Records label. Four, 12-inch discs that include music and sound effects to dramatize the literary classic.

So, we’d invest in a turntable. As a former DJ for my college radio station, WAYN 860AM (Wayne State University), I wasn’t satisfied with the belt-drive Sony model available at Best Buy for 100 bucks. After all, this was undoubtedly going to be the last turntable we bought in our lives. Audio-Technica offered a professional grade, direct drive model that included a preamp, standard RCA stereo jacks and USB port. Plus, the turntable included the well-reviewed Audacity software to convert the output of our analog discs into digital files.

Out came Chicago, Stevie Wonder, Maynard Ferguson, Deodato, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Roberta Flack, Donny Hathaway, Grover Washington, Jr., Miles Davis, Modern Jazz Quartet, Pat Metheny, The Commodores, Chopin, Kris Kristofferson,  Neil Diamond, Dave Brubeck, Joe Cocker and Bob Dylan. And that’s just scratching the surface — no pun intended.

It was like reconnecting with a long lost love. The tactile experience of handling and cleaning an oversized disk; selecting playback speed; dropping the needle on the desired track and flipping the record over for side two unleashed a tidal wave of memories. The sound was real and deliciously imperfect. It was authentic and not virtual like compact discs and electronic files that only exist as ones and zeroes. The jacket art was larger and colorful. I have rediscovered a passion of my youth.

It’s no secret that I’m not the only rejuvenated vinyl addict. J&R, the New York City electronics store, ran a full-page ad on the back of the Arts & Leisure section of this Sunday’s New York Times, promoting classic albums on vinyl. They’re selling The Beatles starting at $20.00 per LP. That’s Long Play record for you new school kids.

In my neighborhood, Dearborn, Michigan, we’re still blessed to have a good old-fashioned local record shop, Dearborn Music. In fact, after 53 years at their iconic location on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Monroe, the store is moving a little West off the avenue to Newman Street across from Sacred Heart Church. The new spot is smaller, but the store still offers its full collection of CDs and LPs, new and used. The Beatles Abbey Road LP is in stock at Dearborn Music for $14.07.

Oh! Darling! I think its time for a vinyl holiday party. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The call for change must be answered, no matter who wins the election.

There were four political robo-call voice mails to erase on Saturday. I deleted four more on Sunday. The voices were rehearsed and the words uninspired. Never could understand why campaigns pay for these nuisances and couldn’t imagine a voter listening to one, until I’d seen some of the snide and vicious barbs people write to each other about candidates and public policy on Facebook and Twitter. The person-to-person remarks make the negative TV and radio ads look like Sesame Street, with Big Bird debating Elmo.

And when the smoke clears and the dust settles on Wednesday, what we’ll have left is a very divided country. But what’s new? That’s America from the beginning. Acrimonious and apathetic until the stuff hits the fan, or the tea hits the water.  Took years to pass the Constitution. Dixie seceded and more than 750,000 died before the emancipation of slaves and the end to the Civil War. Had a century of segregation before civil rights.  Had more than two years of the Nazi blitzkrieg and the bombing of Pearl Harbor before the self-proclaimed greatest generation stepped up to battle the axis powers. A few hundred thousand Americans served multiple tours of duty in Iraq and we ran up a trillion dollar tab before the second Iraqi war ended, with hardly a peep or a protest from average citizens.

We’ve had assassinations and many attempts during political campaigns and a history of voter suppression. Look how long it took for women to vote. But at no time in U.S. history have we ever had the billions spent on a presidential election that were poured into this one. Will we ever know how much was really spent? Constitutionally, corporations are now considered people. The question is: how will the people cooperate beginning Wednesday morning, November 7, 2012?

As much as Americans complain about negative campaigning, our politics and our politicians are a reflection of our own intellectual character and the quality of the debate we demand. How well do we know the issues? Are we content to indulge our ignorance and volley uninformed platitudes until the next congressional election? The problems that face us are unparalleled in a global marketplace.

Do we have the courage to face them, the integrity to solve them and the ingenuity to transcend them?

Destiny is calling. And if we don’t respond, it won’t leave a message.