Rogers, CTV and the golden age of Hollywood

There was a tweet that came across my feed the other day that asked the question:

What would people think of #Rogers buying #CTV? #crtc

My immediate response was:

Don’t let this bad thing happen! RT  What would people think of #Rogers buying #CTV? #crtc

Here’s a richer description of why it’s a bad thing.

Back in the early days of motion pictures, in what is referred to as the golden age of Hollywood, there where eight studios who essentially owned the movie industry in the US. These studios created the films with writers, directors, producers and actors who they employed as staff. They owned the film processing and laboratories. They created the prints and distributed them through the theaters that they also owned. In a nutshell, they managed the entire process of movie making from beginning to end: design, creation, manufacturing and distribution.

It was good for the studios and their financial position but was it good for the industry? Independent film makers and non-studio owned theaters where at a severe disadvantage and struggled to bring their stories to the public. The creative talent within this studio managed system of production often voiced their dissatisfaction with the repressive regime they toiled under.  The US Department of Justice also thought there was something wrong with a studio controlled oligopoly and sued the major Hollywood studios with unfair trade practices in 1938 and won a decree in 1940 which set out the changes the studios were required to implement. By 1943 it was determined that the studios had not met the conditions set out in the decree and the top eight studios where sued again by the US DOJ. By 1948 as a result of the lawsuit, there was a major change in how the studios conducted business including their relinquishing ownership of theaters across the country. The stranglehold of the Hollywood studios on the North American film industry ended and a new era of independent and alternative film making emerged.

There is no denying that some great movies were made during the golden age of Hollywood. Classics that still impress to this day. Incredible actors, writers and technology which many still view with awe. The flaw with the studio system was in the absolute total control a few people exercised over an entire industry. Decisions were made with their benefit in mind and at a detriment to any who opposed them. In pursuit of profit illegal activities merged with standard operational practice and the business of making movies became a dictatorship which stifled creativity and freedom of thought.

There were specific business practices which formed the basis of the charges against the studios which wouldn’t apply if Rogers owned CTV but the overall vertical integration and total control and ownership of the process would exist. If Rogers added the national broadcaster to their assets they would effectively be in total control of media from beginning to end: content creation, production and distribution. That would be good for Rogers but bad for the rest of the industry, specifically the independent content creators and us, the consumers of media. Many people bash the CRTC but it would be the only organization in a position to keep Rogers from taking control of our media.

Note: Rogers owning CTV may or may not be purely hypothetical but a reality we can’t overlook is Shaw owning Canwest-Global. It may be measured on a smaller scale but it maps out with the same end-to-end ownership of the media and the entertainment business in Canada.

Dean

Community access TV programming to increase but not until 2014: CRTC

Today the CRTC released their latest policy on community access TV following the hearings last spring when the people involved with this valuable resource, including CACTUS, community groups and cable companies, presented their opinions on the existing practices along with proposals for change. One of the quantifiable items at stake in this often divisive battle is the $120 million dollars a year which is collected from subscribers and given back to cable companies to fund community access to studios, equipment, technical expertise and air time.

In recent years the cable-co’s across Canada have been eliminating community access and putting in its place, professional journalists. This replaces local TV coverage with a regional network which is being funded by a redirection of the $120 million dollars worth of subscriber fees intended for community TV initiatives.

The CRTC announced in this latest policy paper that cable companies will be required to improve reporting of community access activities by 2012 and provide 50% of air time on the cable channel to community developed programming by 2014.  Although this is an increase from 30% in the current policy most cable-co’s provide less but no one knows for certain since the existing reporting obligations aren’t being met and the definition of community access programming is subject to various interpretations.

Here in Central Alberta cable has a low penetration rate with satellite TV service taking the lead as the provider of choice in over 55% of the homes in the region so community access via cable has a limited reach anyway. What the CRTC should do is give the money collected in the levy, estimated to be $120 million this year alone,  to community groups as outlined in the CACTUS model and mandate that the programming be included in the basic packages offered by cable, satellite and IPTV. Building out a web based video service should also be included in this plan.

Sidebar: Given the current political wind blowing through the CRTC hallways, they might not even be around in 2014. Then what?

Dean

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Links:

CPAC coverage of the CRTC hearings on community access TV. The dates to watch are April 27 through to May 7.

CACTUS (Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations) which proposes a detailed model for community TV making use of the reallocated $120 million dollar levy.

OpenMedia “To advance and support a media communications system in Canada that adheres to the principles of access, choice, diversity, innovation and openness.” Here’s their take on the latest CRTC policy.

CRTC’s policy framework for community television 2002

Shopping local and finding doughnut nirvana

On Saturday last week I was in our local Penhold grocery store picking up a few items and stumbled across a jackpot. We believe in shopping local whenever we can and you should too. Take my word for it, shopping local pays off – big time! Not only do you support the local economy but you will find treasures not found elsewhere.

Tim Horton’s is a Canadian institution and I wouldn’t dare argue with anyone on that point. I am a big fan of their coffee but occasionally stray off the path in pursuit of a better doughnut. Krispy-Kreme lured me with their golden glazed charms but I always felt guilty and went back to Timmie’s. After all, I am a proud patriot and eating some other country’s deep fried dough just didn’t seem right.

Years ago in Red Deer we had an alternative to Timmie’s – Robin’s Doughnuts. Robin’s coffee was not near as potent as Tim’s but on the other hand Robin’s doughnuts were the best. Baked on site and always fresh and huge. One night I got to watch them pump chocolate sauce  into chocolate doughnuts. They were so full of chocolaty goodness they almost burst. I bought two of those works of art right then and there. And I ate them right then and there. Savoring every bite till I almost burst. The other guy’s doughnuts fell into second place and then a horrible thing happened. Robin’s Doughnuts went into receivership and closed it’s doors forever. Oh well, back to Timmie’s.

Then another bad news doughnut story came my way. Timmie’s was pulling the bakeries out of their stores in favour of shipping in frozen lumps of dough from who knows where. Outsourced doughnuts!  Red Deer looked like it was fast becoming a doughnut wasteland. Cinnamon buns from Glen’s on Gasoline alley were the height of sweet and gooey but they just weren’t doughnuts. We still went to Timmie’s for the coffee but I had to eat two doughnuts at each visit in a weak attempt to fill the void Robin’s closing created. Then I discovered the perfect doughnut in my small-town grocery store, 1st Choice Foods.

I knew these folks did baking in their Red Deer store and brought the goods out to Penhold every day but this was the first time I saw these beauties. Bavarian creme doughnuts so round and firm, the package could barely contain them. Six in a pack – a good round number. The bottom of the package showed puddles of dried chocolate icing, a good sign. Creme was oozing from the golden dough, another clue to their doughnuty excellence.  I picked them up muttering, “Come on boys, you’re coming home with me.”. Did they taste every bit as good as they looked? Yes! Doughnut nirvana at long last.

The next time I go to Timmie’s, it’s coffee to go from the drive through and then we’ll sit in the Jeep and enjoy the co-mingling of coffee and doughnut perfection. It pays to shop local!

Dean

I can’t see what the 3D TV fuss is all about*

Although 3D is the latest next-big-thing in TV and movie technology it isn’t new and it will fail just like it did the last time it came around and for the same reasons. The real future for the television set  is built-in internet connections to access web based video but it looks like the entertainment industry will be missing the mark and lead us astray with 3D.

Why is 3D TV a #FAIL? Here are the big three reasons:

  1. 3D media is expensive to produce and out of reach for most content creators;
  2. wide variety of incompatible equipment standards used to view the 3D movies in theaters and on home TVs make it difficult and expensive to use;
  3. it has been estimated that 20-30% of the audience can’t watch 3D due to vision limitations (lack of stereoscopic vision) or health reasons (seizures or headaches).

So with all of these negatives why is the entertainment and technology industry promoting 3D movies, games and TV? It’s simple – control. The big push for 3D video lets the big entertainment companies such as Sony retain ownership of the process from beginning to end. They make the movies, they distribute the movies and they sell you the technology used to consume their movies.

As consumers, most of us want a wide variety of content to choose from and that is one of the reasons why an internet connected TV with a fully functional web browser should be the next big home entertainment technology. If the entertainment industry has their say , it won’t be because it gives choices to the consumer and takes control away from the traditional broadcast media companies. An alternative is something that is not difficult or expensive to set-up and is quite popular among the geeks out there: connecting a computer to a TV set.

A simple solution is to pick-up a low cost computer (tower or portable, MAC or Windows), hook it up to your flat panel TV (VGA or HDMI along with audio), sit back with a wireless keyboard/mouse combo unit and watch web based video. To help you avoid wasting time shifting through the bits’n’pieces on sites like YouTube, the next big thing on the web are ‘channels’ with niche content which organize your choices making it easier to locate and watch video content.

If you’re looking to purchase a new TV, compare the price of a 3D TV (plus glasses for the whole family plus a new 3D enabled BlueRay disc player plus the cost and limited selection of 3D movies) with the cost of a good 2D TV with a new computer to connect to it. It won’t take you long to see the questionable value in 3D TV and hopefully motivate you to make the move to web-based video.

Dean

* Since I’m one of the 30% of the audience mentioned above with vision limitations, I really “can’t” see 3D TV. Although I have two eyes they don’t form a stereoscopic image. It’s referred to as monocular vision, similar to what a person with only one eye experiences. My depth perception is poor but my peripheral vision is wider than normal – so don’t try sneaking up on me, I won’t know exactly how close you are but I will see you coming!

Blood, bullets and ballot boxes

Hooray, it’s municipal election time in Alberta. Lawn signs, town hall discussions and citizens complaining the day after voting about the same old bunch of politicians being elected. How often are these the same people who didn’t vote anyway? The pundits are fond of saying that if you don’t cast your ballot, you deserve the government you get. The Red Deer election seems to be off to a quiet start. Even compared to the 2007 election. Candidates aren’t coming forward and it has been predicted that voter turn out will be at an all time low. In 2007, 22% of eligible voters cast their ballot on election day. What happened to our democracy?

My wife and I took part in the federal election process many years ago. We weren’t candidates or campaign workers but enumerators. We went door to door adding people to the voter lists. For us it was something to do and earn some extra cash. My involvement with the democratic process was slight. At the time I couldn’t remember the last time I voted and didn’t know the name of the federal MP for our area. During the enumerator orientation the boss told us something that changed my mind immediately and forever.

For that particular election Canada was switching over to cardboard ballot boxes. Our government had lent the traditional tin ballot boxes to Haiti for their recent elections and many of the boxes came back riddled with bullet holes and sprayed with blood. Bullet holes and blood? Holey moley! I had seen video of the Haitian riots on the news but thought little about it. After all it was happening somewhere else. The vision of ballot boxes with bullet holes and blood-stains stuck in my mind and it brought me to the realization that as citizens of this country we have an obligation to take part in the democratic process. In other countries, people give up their lives to vote in free elections and dictators kill them to prevent democracy from happening. If you don’t vote, either locally or provincially or in the federal election, you run the risk of losing democracy. So get out and vote!

PS. – Taking part in democracy doesn’t end when you stuff the ballot into the box. As citizens we need to remind the elected officials that they work for us. Turn up at council meetings when possible. Keep informed about the activities of  your local government and don’t be afraid to call them on anything you think is contrary to the  promises they made during the campaign or detrimental to your community.

Future of local media is . . . well . . . local

Towards the end of the latest This Week In Media episode, the panel examines the future of local television. One of the statements to come out of the round-table discussion was delivered with great insight but really obvious. In order to succeed or even to survive, local television needs to be local. Not just as a re-broadcaster of national or international news and programs but a truly local channel featuring local news and events. The mobile web was suggested as the best platform for this local/hyper-local content.

Imagine that . . .

Pros do it for money

Forty or so years ago I had aspirations to be a photo-journalist. Back then magazines such as Look, Life and National Geographic were the ultimate goal for a news and documentary photographer and I dreamed of the day when my photos would grace their pages. It was a noble profession which had its risks and rewards. I was young, passionate and up for it.

I lived and breathed photography day and night for years. My camera was with me everywhere I went and nothing and no-one was safe or sacred. There were times that it was legitimate and times when I was an intruder. Kind of like an early version of paparazzi. During all this time I honed my craft. Learning techniques, technology and studying the work of those who I looked upon as the masters – Robert Capa, Margaret Bourke-White, Matthew Brady, Yousuf Karsh and Ansel Adams.

Not once did I get paid for these pictures. I almost sold some photos of a wreck on the highway. When the night news editor of the paper found out that no one had died in the crash he turned them down. “Sorry kid, accidents happen all the time but if someone is killed – that’s news!”. Later on I found out this is called, “if it bleeds, it leads!”. At least I got to hang around the newsroom with him. We listened to the police scanner and got excited when it sounded like there was some action out on the mean streets of the city. Nothing much ever came out of this to further my career but I kept on taking pictures.

My photographer friends at the time went to college to enhance their photography skills. College was expensive  and a formal education in the art of light and shadow was out of my reach. Instead, I just kept taking pictures. A buddy of mine was getting involved with formal portraiture and wedding photography and one day asked me to come along as a helper. Of course I didn’t get paid but as a business venture I thought it had potential so I worked at learning some of the wedding photog’s techniques that were popular at the time, upgraded my equipment and went to work.

At this point I became a professional photographer. Not because of the style of pictures I took, not because of the equipment I owned, not because of the skill I applied to the creation of the images and certainly not just because I joined the Professional Photographers of Canada. It was because I got paid money to take pictures. I was average at wedding photography. Probably because my heart and soul wasn’t into it. Don’t get me wrong my photo’s were as good as any other wedding hack out there and I always delivered as promised. But how excited could I get over ‘peek-a-bouquet’  or ‘contemplative bride reflection in a mirror’ or ‘bride and groom on foot bridge’ poses when what I really wanted to be was a photo journalist capturing the gamut of human emotions in the real world. But at least I was a ‘pro’. I had my fill of wedding photography, sold all of my equipment  and moved onto other things. Photo-journalism wasn’t one of those other things.

So what’s the point of all of this? If you’re young, follow your dream and don’t get sidetracked. You might never get a second chance. Oh and there is more to being a pro than just doing it for money.

Your internet is under attack: Google Verizon plan for a new internet

Your internet is under attack. Not by some hacker but by Google and Verizon with their proposal to control wireless internet traffic. Thinly disguised as support for net neutrality, their initial announcement  followed up with a “suggested legislative framework” for (US) government management of a new internet, attacks your freedom of choice, speech and access to  the world wide web. Net neutrality has many facets but at the core of it is the principle that internet service  providers should not be allowed to discriminate or restrict Web traffic based on its content. Think cable TV. Without net neutrality you will have to pay extra to have access to some sites and even lose the ability to visit other websites because they just won’t be available.

What’s at the heart of this latest attack on net neutrality? The service providers stand to make a lot of money from this new internet model and governments gain control over the “news” and access to alternative points of view will be squashed.

What can you do about it? Get after our elected government officials (remember – they work for us) and let them know that we want a free and open internet and not one based on limited and restrictive laws put forward by corporate lobbyists.