NBC, don’t screw this up by making better TV musicals

Apparently the live Sound of Music was hugely popular:

NBC’s gamble of filling an entire night with live musical theater paid off handsomely on Thursday as “The Sound of Music,” with Carrie Underwood in the Julie Andrews role of Maria, posted the network’s best entertainment ratings for a Thursday night since 2009.

And so we are going to get a lot more of these apparently:

…this gamble — live theater on network television, a throwback to earlier eras of the medium and events like “Peter Pan” and “Cinderella” — paid off so well it is almost a certainty that the network will be looking for other musicals to mount live around holidays.

We turned it on and left it on for a while and were stunned at just how bad the show was. We found ourselves asking “How did this get on the air?”, “They must have known it was awful, didn’t they?”. And apparently we weren’t alone, as twitter was alive with hate-watchers, and the critics dumped on the show.

So, NBC, don’t screw this up by doing more of these with bigger budgets, more rehearsals, better actors. That is not why we watched. We watched for the same reason we read about Lindsay Lohan, the reason we watch Jerry Springer and New Jersey Housewives. We love watching carnage unfold before our eyes in slow motion.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/seattlemunicipalarchives/My advice — rehearse less. Have Taylor Swift sing live, maybe in some more duets with Stevie Nicks. Hire unstable people — Amanda Bynes and Alec Baldwin seem perfect for the next one. Intentionally antagonize your stars. Inject some randomness into the live performance — have part of the set collapse mid-scene. Liberally stock the backstage area with alcohol. Surprise one of the stars with a cameo from a recent ex.

I’ll watch the next one if I know there is a chance someone will walk offstage in a huff, or go in a rampage live and light part of the set on fire.

I watched episode 1 of Bravo’s “Start-Ups: Silicon Valley” this weekend.

Hey, Ohio State had a bye, I had to watch something. 3 observations after watching “the show”:http://www.bravotv.com/start-ups-silicon-valley:

* I am now embarrassed to say I work in the tech industry.
* Apparently there are just as many venal, shallow people in the tech industry as there are in Orange County, the Jersey Shore, or any other reality show setting
* If someone ever shows up with a camera and says they want to put you on a reality show, why would you ever do anything besides run away? They are not there to burnish your image.

SimpleTV, Aereo miss the mark

Some early reviews of the original Kindle were very dismissive, wondering why anyone would want to carry around a limited device with a goofy display. These tech-savvy reviewers predicted failure for Amazon, saying that people would prefer general purpose phones or tablets for reading. A lot of these reviewers were not actually heavy book readers tho.

Amazon has done just fine with Kindles. They focused on people who actually bought and read a lot of books. For book enthusiasts, the Kindle has been just fine, and heavy readers have no issue carrying around a device focused just on reading — it saves carrying around 4-5 books. And book enthusiasts spend a lot of money on books and can justify the expense easily. Long term, general purpose tablets may displace the hardware Kindle, but Amazon has played this well, and I suspect focused devices targeting enthusiasts will always have a place.

Two recent TV products are interesting — Simple.TV is a slick looking little box to receive and record OTA programming, won all kinds of kudos at CES. Aereo lets you watch OTA TV anywhere on any device, with no antenna or fuss. Aereo is getting a ton of press, less about the product, more about Barry Diller and tussles with broadcasters.

Neither of these products focus on people who spend money on TV — TV enthusiasts. People who like TV spend lots of money on cable subs, on TV sets, on premium channels, etc. Enthusiasts don’t want to spend less, they just want it all to work well and to be a great experience. SimpleTV and Aereo both focus on people who don’t want to spend any money on TV programming, who just want OTA content, which seems strange. Like creating an ebook reader for people who don’t want to actually buy books, who only want to download public domain free books — that strategy has been tried and it has failed. At least SimpleTV lets you watch TV programming on a TV. Aereo doesn’t even connect to a TV set unless you buy something from Roku or Apple or someone else. So Aereo is for people who want to watch TV, but not on a TV, and who don’t value TV programming enough to pay for it.

OK that is a little snarky, obviously there is demand for cord-cutting and these products will find some success. But you’d think someone would create a product aimed at people who like TV, who spend a lot on TV, who want TV on TV sets, and who also want some of the other features of Simple and Aereo — watch anywhere on any device. NimbleTV seems like it could be more interesting.

Watching TV on the iPad

I pay a large amount to Comcast/Xfinity each month to view nearly their entire lineup (ex non-English channels) at our home. And because we pay for a Time-Warner Cable sub as a gift for a family member, I also have access to a TWC account. A lot of dollars per month.

I’d like to watch all this content on my iPad when I am in a room with no tv or when I am out of the house, and I don’t feel like that is an unreasonable expectation given the dollars I spend.

So how do I watch on the iPad? Well as a start I downloaded as many of the branded apps for various channels and distributors as I could find.

* Xfinity TV app. Sounds great but is not useful. Basically a super duper remote control if I am in a room with a Xfinity branded settop box. Doesn’t let me see video, doesn’t do anything if I am out of the room. And since I am mostly a TiVo house, basically not much utility here. I had hoped/expected that Xfinity would give me an iPad app that basically acted as a dvr+tv, and would let me see all my streaming xfinity content. I was wrong.
* TiVo iPad app. Looks nice and for some things — remotely managing my scheduled recordings — it is fine. But for watching video? It blows. Apparently I need to have my TiVo and iPad on the same wifi network, and none of my tivos are on wifi, so I can’t watch video.
* Showtime app. Performs a distributor validation, only works on AT&T Uverse and Verizon networks. Seriously? I am paying a ton for Showtime access and you guys are going to squabble with Comcast and deny me this service?
* HBO Go. A reasonable app. Works on Comcast and works anywhere as near as I can tell, I can watch shows anywhere. So this is great but if the world we end up in is 57 separate apps, one per channel, each with their own UI and login, that will kind of suck. Imagine if your tv had no single guide but per-channel guides which each worked differently, and then different remotes for each channel. Barf.
* NBC. A decent experience. Seems to have all their recent shows, no crazy access control. Yes you have to watch ads but that is ok with me, I have to watch ads on TV too.
* WatchESPN — nice when it works, but only on TWC, Verizon, Brighthouse. Another case of distributors squabbling and screwing users.
* btn2go. no comcast. More distributor squabbling
* CBS sports. Claims to have live seasonal NCAAFB and NCAABB content. We will see.

So — I get very little of my content; I am prevented from getting a lot of choices due to squabbling between various members of the distribution chain; when I do get content, it is spewed across many different apps with all kinds of different UIs, guides, control interfaces, etc.

The whole set of players is really underdelivering to me. Is it any wonder people just seek out torrents?

Cameras in my TV, and not in a creepy way

So apparently all our tvs will have cameras and mics soon, and hopefully the mfrs will be a little smarter about privacy and usage rights than “this abysmal first Samsung attempt”:http://yro.slashdot.org/story/12/03/21/2117236/new-samsung-tv-watches-you-watching-it.

I also note that Xfinity keeps sending me mail about “their home security offering”:http://www.comcast.com/homesecurity/index.htm?SCRedirect=true, they want to come in my house and install a bunch of sensors and extract even a higher monthly fee from me.

So the obvious thought — why do I need a bunch of distributed sensors in the house? If I can put several cameras and mics in the tv (they are basically free), with full directionality and distance sensing, then my tv could sense in-room movement, perimeter movement, glass breakage, basically all the things a security system senses. Heck, throw in heat, smoke, and CO sensing too for fun, and an accelerometer to detect theft.

I’ve got a TV in our family room/kitchen, my office, our bedroom — if each of these provided full room monitoring for security, that would cover the bulk of the issues in the house. There is some great software that needs to be written to process the signals, identify perimeter movement, let me establish baselines to be ignored, set up different watch conditions for times when home versus times when away etc. But I don’t see why I should need to go thru the braindamage of putting sensors everywhere, solving wiring or battery issues for them, etc.

Friday afternoon musing about TV — VCOs, Airplay, Cameras

Gearing up for lots of basketball watching over the next month, OSU is on tonight, Go Bucks, humiliate the Boilermakers. I know he is long retired but that combover that Gene Keady sported for years still annoys me and Purdue must pay for it. Anyway, random TV thoughts:

* Why are there no virtual cable operators? Why have MSFT and Hulu pulled back from this strategy? Rumours are it was over rights fees but given what I pay for a full load of cable channels each month so that I can get all the sports content, it is hard for me to believe there is not a viable offering in here. This seems like the only viable “cut the cord” strategy (vs the wishful think about ala carte pricing), I don’t understand why no one has bit the bullet and tried to make a VCO work.

* When will all our TVs have cameras built into them? OK maybe this year — “Samsung plans”:http://www.cepro.com/article/samsung_smart_tvs_dominate_2012_plans/ Kinect functionality? The chip cost is de minimus and the TV guys need features. How will that change how we use our TVs? If I have a camera in my iPad and Airplay and a camera in my TV, which will I use for video calling? I am confusing myself.

* Should we junk projectors in our conference rooms and just use AirPlay/AppleTV and an LCD display? Or at least use AppleTV as input to projector? Would this end the silly game of trying to get laptops to work in conference rooms with projectors? The new Airplay features of the iPad seem undersold. The press coverage seems to be all about resolution and network speed and multicore but this Airplay thing seems pretty interesting.

* Oh and back on the VCO thing — hooking up your PC to your TV can be a PITA, but it seems like AirPlay is going to help on that, so maybe this makes a VCO more viable?

Why do they call it AppleTV? Where’s the TV part?

I mean, you can’t really watch TV on it.

Live sports like NFL football or NCAA football or all the upcoming NCAA basketball tournament action? No. That’s at least 50% of the reason we have TV sets and cable service at our house. NHL doesn’t cut it.

The most popular prime time shows like American Idol or The Voice? No. Episodes of popular series the night they come out so you can be current at the water cooler? No. That accounts for most of our other TV expenditure.

Daytime staples like Judge Judy, Ellen? No. I admit sometimes I like to watch Judge Judy bring the hammer down on some moron.

And it isn’t a TV either.

It is not a bad box for what it is, I really like some of the features, and I might get one of the new ones for the music and AirPlay features, but calling it TV just confuses me. I thought maybe the new box would somehow deliver more on the TV promise but not really.

An alternative view on Apple and TVs

Lots of rumours this week about an upcoming Apple TV reintroduction.

The partnering with major cable players makes sense to me, that is just the iPhone playbook all over again — pick off one carrier, create a great experience with them, help them gain share, and then the rest of the providers will crack. I’d think that Apple would go after the satellite guys first as a solution with them could be marketed and sold nationally, tho of course the internet side of a satellite solution kind of blows. But whatever, Apple will certainly try to work the iPhone playbook again.

On the device side, maybe Apple will roll out a super-TV with iOS embedded in it, but I kind of wonder about this. Apple is already a central part of my TV experience — I sit on the couch with my iPad and use it to fill voids or augment what I am seeing. And the iPad is the best remote control for a Tivo or Comcast box — just install the respective apps, way easier to navigate the guide. So I kind of wonder why Apple just doesn’t hollow out the TV and STB — let them stay as dumb tuners and a display surface, but all the app smarts migrate to the iPad and the cloud. This is basically what has happened to in-car electronics — nav systems and fancy cd players have been replaced by the phone. I’m not convinced jamming iOS and apps into the TV or STB makes for a better experience — my new TVs have all kinds of internet and streaming junk jammed into them and I never use.

I wonder if the upcoming iPad 3.0 will have more features for augmenting TV viewing. Seems like it should.

No time to blog, so here’s a link roundup

* “Cutting the Cord on Cable”:http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203550304577138841278154700.html. Wish I could get there but live HD sports still keeps me stuck to cable/satellite provider. I’ve tried the streaming options and they are weak — poor selection of games/sources (I need ESPN/ABC channels + BTN + Fox Sports channels + upcoming Pac12 network), lots of stutter, not HD content. I will probably be one of the last cable subscribers in the country.
* “Men with deep voices lack sperm”:http://medicalxpress.com/news/2012-01-men-deep-voice-lacking-sperm.html. I was a tenor in choir.
* “Do programming puzzles in interviews work?”:http://gadgetopia.com/post/7314. I don’t think I’ve ever asked these kinds of questions, or at least not in 20 years.
* “Gamification sucks”:http://inessential.com/2011/12/23/gamification_sucks. Respect your users.
* “The Verge”:http://www.theverge.com/ and “The Wirecutter”:http://thewirecutter.com/ — good tech sites.
* “If you are busy, you are doing something wrong”:http://calnewport.com/blog/2011/11/11/if-youre-busy-youre-doing-something-wrong-the-surprisingly-relaxed-lives-of-elite-achievers/.
* “10 new-ish programming languages”:http://www.infoworld.com/d/application-development/10-programming-languages-could-shake-it-181548. WOuld like to learn more about Chapel, haXe, X10, OPA.
* “DSLRs are a dying breed”:http://www.stuckincustoms.com/2012/01/04/dslrs-are-a-dying-breed-3rd-gen-cameras-are-the-future/. Not another “camera phones are going to win” article, but a smarter take on the mirrorless trend.

Today’s NCAA FB roundup — reactions to Buckeyes andUSC; required NCAA FB reading

I watched bits of LSU/WVU (LSU is my #1), Toledo/Syracuse, ND/Pitt, UW/Cal. But key games I watched yesterday were OSU and USC.

* OSU is in for a tough year. Yes they tackled better yesterday, but it was Colorado. If we give up 17 to Colorado, we will give up 24+ to MSU/Nebraska/Wisconsin, and the OSU offense does not have the firepower to score enough against those teams. I’m glad Braxton and other young players are getting the reps, this is a team for next year.
* USC shot themselves in the foot over and over again, and Erickson was clearly the best coach out there. The ASU offensive game plan and adjustments were very effective and USC could never crack it.

On broader college football issues, if you haven’t already seen the below, read immediately. As money continues to pour into the sport, the issues discussed are going to become more prominent, not less.

* If you haven’t already read the “the Quad’s story on college football fan distribution”:http://thequad.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/19/the-geography-of-college-football-fans-and-realignment-chaos/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+nyt%2Frss%2FSports+%28NYT+%3E+Sports%29&seid=auto&smid=tw-nytimessports, do so. Excellent explanation of the market facts underpinning realignment chaos.
* “Study about poverty and student-athletes (PDF)”:http://assets.usw.org/ncpa/The-Price-of-Poverty-in-Big-Time-College-Sport.pdf. Excellent, record revenues and expenditures in college football, but many players struggle.
* Of course. the “Atlantic article”:http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/10/the-shame-of-college-sports/8643/ on the inherently corrupt economics of college football.

And on a lighter note, “Matt Sarz’s TV listings”:http://mattsarzsports.com/football2011.aspx. Finding USC on the Root network last night was tricky.

Using the WatchESPN iPad app, and it is not bad. Worth an install.

Following up on my last post about “my college football digital media setup”:http://theludwigs.com/2011/09/my-college-football-digital-media-setup/, I’ve been playing around with the WatchESPN app and it is not bad, if you are on a supported carrier you can watch reasonable quality video over a wifi connection. I use it at home to keep tabs on a second game while watching a primary game on the TV, but I can use it on any wifi connection anywhere, not just at home. Still waiting for the BTN2GO app that has been promised.

Some people have suggested sites like http://www.bahistv.tk/ for watching feeds. This is one of many sites that attempts to find you a live feed of various sports content. In desperation it might be useful, but the signals are generally standard def and laggy/lossy at that. So it is useful to me in the same way that Skype is useful — if you are making an overseas call, where costs are high and quality is iffy, then Skype is super useful. For domestic calls where the incremental cost of a call is $0 and quality is good, Skype is of little utility. So with these video sites — if I don’t have access the content on a domestic cable/satellite carrier, then it is useful. But will never be my preferred choice because the quality is so poor.

Year end link clean up

* “Poor Halo play prompts stabbing threat”:http://blog.seattlepi.com/seattle911/archives/231642.asp. Doesn’t seem unreasonable. I’ve heard campers threatened with worse.
* “How Secure Is My Password”:http://howsecureismypassword.net/. No idea how accurate, but fun. 17 thousand years for my typical password.
* “Rich on photobooks”:http://www.tongfamily.com/archives/2010/12/photobooks-for-christmas/. I just always use the default in Aperture but perhaps I should branch out.
* “AR.Drone”:http://www.crunchgear.com/2010/12/01/ar-drone-torn-down/. Why don’t I have one of these yet.
* “Declining energy quality as recession cause”:http://www.physorg.com/news/2010-11-declining-energy-quality-root-current.html. An interesting way to look at things. Not sure it actually makes sense tho.
* “Now you can swap useless Amex reward points for useless Zynga crap.”:http://techcrunch.com/2010/11/30/american-express-now-lets-you-swap-rewards-points-for-zyngas-purple-cows/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+Techcrunch+(TechCrunch)
* “Snoopy themed Windows tablet”:http://www.crunchgear.com/2010/11/25/onkyo-announces-snoopy-themed-windows-tablet/. Take that, Apple.
* “Spiders on Drugs”:http://design-milk.com/spiders-on-drugs-by-guillaume-lehoux/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_campaign=Feed:+design-milk+(Design+Milk). We are asking for some serious payback from spider nation some day.
* “Umpteenth article on the death of cable TV”:http://techcrunch.com/2010/10/24/internet-tv-and-the-death-of-cable-tv-really/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+Techcrunch+(TechCrunch), yawn. Until I can watch HD live sports without stuttering I am captive to cable/dish. Going to be a while.
* “Charles on breaking up MSFT”:http://www.platformonomics.com/2010/10/the-baby-bills-are-back/. Good as always.
* “Habitable planet found?”:http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2010/09/has-a-potentially-habitable-planet-just-been-discovered.html
* “Languages you’ve never heard of”:http://gadgetopia.com/post/7105?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+gadgetopia+(Gadgetopia). In the future, we will all have our very own programming language.
* “Topologist suggests new form of matter”:http://www.kurzweilai.net/topologist-predicts-new-form-of-matter. For most of our history we’ve used the forms of matter that nature gave us. It is interesting to observe and think about what we can create as we gain mastery over atomic organization.
* “One man’s indictment of iTunes”:http://www.xconomy.com/national/2010/09/03/the-leaning-tower-of-ping-how-itunes-could-be-apples-undoing/. The thing is a giant hairball of software.
* “Exercise and aging”:http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/28/magazine/28athletes-t.html?_r=1&ref=homepage&src=me&adxnnlx=1290787262-FJGn2RNM8RCjxiaHpyyVDA&pagewanted=all. Crap I need to get after it.
* “Show Me What’s Wrong”:http://www.showmewhatswrong.com/. Super useful.
* “User experience of F1 telemetry”:http://www.solidstateux.com/interaction-design/the-user-experience-of-f1-telemetry/. Always impressed with the amount of money spent on racing.
* “MacPaint and MacDraw source code”:http://www.computerhistory.org/highlights/macpaint/. Nostalgia.

OMG Google TV!

OK I am sure I will buy one of these when I can because, well, I am a classic early adopter and will get sucked in. But as mentioned at All Things D, why will GoogleTV be any different than any of the other failed tv/internet merged products?

I can already watch tons of movies today or lots of crappy web content on my Comcast box, my Tivo box, my AppleTV box. But none of these let me break free of the Comcast/media chokehold and let me watch the really critical content — HD sports (particularly college football), HD first-run top-100 popular drama/comedy series from ABC/CBS/NBC/FOX/UPN/TNT/etc. Google announcements with Logitech and Sony are meaningless — “Logitech will make pretty much anything”:http://www.logitech.com/en-us/431/963?WT.z_sp=Image and “Sony hasn’t been relevant since about 1979”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walkman. Now if this box came with an announcement of content availability from ESPN and from 4-5 major networks then it might be exciting. But I can’t see why these networks and Comcast would let that happen without being forced.

But I am sure I will buy one anyway…

Experiments in viewing network video (ABC/NBC/CBS/ESPN) without cable/satellite feed

While in Ohio, we are living without a cable or satellite feed. We do have an IP connection and so are playing around with how to watch ABC/NBC/CBS/ESPN content.

Attempt 1 is “Slingbox+SlingCatcher”:http://www.slingmedia.com. Slingbox in Bellevue, kicking the s-video output from our Tivo up to the net. Then Slingcatcher box here attached to TV. We have 6mbit upload speeds in Bellevue and ~6mbit download here. I chose s-video as a way to minimize the data rate and I wonder if I should have chosen composite video. Because the quality basically sucks. Audio is ok but video is pretty blurry and almost unwatchable. This is clearly never going to be a mainstream solution.

Attempt 2 is downloads direct to the AppleTV from the iTunes store. But totally fails on network tv, the selection is abysmal. and no live sports.

Attempt 3 is bittorrent+handbrake+itunes and playback from an appletv attached to the tv. OK this provides good quality results but a) no live content like football games, and b) is uber-geeky. I can manage this collection of software but no one else wants to take the time to do so. But I can batch up jobs and get a little done every night.

So we have a clunky way to get non-live network shows. But still no great solution for live sports — ESPN, etc. ESPN360 is just barely ok and I guess I can hook the Mac up to the tv. Wish I could get it on other boxes that I am willing to leave hooked up fulltime to tv — mactv, game console, etc.

Will you see all 120 FBS teams play in 2009?

Will you see all 120 teams play in 2009? : Fanblogs College Football Blog. I’ve been wondering about this as a goal as well — just seeing a quarter of play from each team. Over 14 weeks of regular season, this is just seeing 4+ games a weekend IF you can magically pick all the games that cover all the teams. Going to need to pay careful attention to the Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday night games to pick up all the lesser programs.

This weekend alone I will aspire to see parts of

* South Carolina/NC State
* Utah/Utah State
* Oregon/Boise State
* Minnesota/Syracuse
* Ohio State/Navy
* Georgia/Ok State
* Missouri/Illinois
* Oklahoma/BYU
* Alabama/VT
* Maryland/Cal
* Colorado State/UC
* Cincy/Rutgers
* Miami FL/FSU

OK I probably won’t get all but that would be 30 teams right there. Of course the only somewhat obscure programs would be Utah State, SJSU, and Colorado State.

Perhaps my goal should be to just see the BCS teams — that is 66 teams, a very doable goal. And probably less painful than having to watch lower-division Sunbelt conference teams.

I don't get cable/coax networking protocols.

I’m having problems getting a clean Comcast signal to one room in my house. Used to work fine but at about the time of the digital transition, the signal started to fail. Comcast can see and query the cablecard but we can’t get any channel signals through. All the coax and cat5 cabling in our house goes back to a central wiring closet; the ethernet network in the room in question works fine at 1 gigabit but for some reason the coax/cable network fails.

Why does the protocol/modulation scheme for cable fail? Why can the device be addressed and queried but we can’t see channels? Why do they need to put a signal amplifier on the line — i never need to do this for ethernet? Is comcast still using some analog scheme to send the signals across? This just seems odd and ridiculously archaic. And the crazy pairing nonsense for cablecards with all kinds of identifiers needed to be traded back and forth — it makes DHCP and mac addresses look positively simple.

I know I could go read about 64QAM and 256QAM and Cablelabs and all kinds of other stuff to get all smartened up about this but I am frankly tired of dealing with it. I’ve been ignoring the verizon fios offering in our neighborhood but if it would let me junk the coax and move to all cat5/ip i might consider….

Apple to release networked HDTVs

Calacanis: Apple to release networked HDTVs – Nate Lanxon, MP3 & Digital Music Editor – Technology Blog at CNET.co.uk. — this would be good. The current state of the world where you have to buy some separate box and whack it into your media center to get IP-delivered content is just not going to succeed, the mainstream isn’t going to go thru this brain damage. The IP receiver has to be built into the TV or the media receiver or some other piece that people understand and know they need.

Stuff I Want But Don't Need — Surround projector TV, Multitool, Power monitor

* Mitsubishi Ultra Thin Frame Premium Flat Panel TV with Integrated Sound Projector » Coolest Gadgets — cool. I have a discrete sound projector in one room and have been happy with. this is a great way to get surround sound with minimal fuss.
* At the other end of the price spectrum, the Li’l Guppie Multi-tool. I am not sure I actually get much value out of multi-tools but they look cool.
* Realtime power use monitor — this actually seems pretty useful.