Friday, September 29, 2006

Brave new old world…

Hello Cinerati citizens! It’s been awhile since I have posted a guest article, but with the permission of Christian and company, Uncle Loophole would to say a few things. I think Cinerati is the best place for this discussion, as television and entertainment on the internet is an occasional topic. As most visitors to The Shelf are aware, we work hard to bring to you a weekly media roundup. We wade through the morass of media releases for the week and give you our highlights and picks, whether it’s music, DVD releases, books, games, or television. These are our picks for the week and, of course, they sometimes reflect our interests and taste. We do a lot of legwork for this weekly “public service” (see- I just made myself seem all…civic minded and stuff!), and it does take some time. I’m going to let you in on some behind the scenes “footage”, if you will (maybe, one day, soon to be available on The Shelf DVD as a featurette) , and let you see what goes into it: a lot of reading and research. That’s mostly it. Yes, we get to preview and screen a few DVDs, but most of the films we’ve seen before so we do rely on lots of industry information, research, and tips from our operatives in the field. These aren’t reviews; these are our picks that we recommend that our readers give a try.

I bring this up because a fairly recent discovery has aided and abetted in our endeavors as of late: AOL. Yes, that AOL. Well, specifically AOL Music. You see, every week on AOL Music, you can preview selected new CD releases (in their entirety) for a week. The next week, new releases are available for a listen. We’re able to really review several new CD’s for our Media Roundup a day before they drop in stores. I can listen to several of them during normal earth work hours, and then recommend my choices and review them for you. I usually provide a link so that you can see them for yourself. I know that perhaps most of you are saying to yourself; “Gee, Uncle Loophole, we know this already. We’ve been listening to Ludacris all week!” I understand that may be the case, but let’s consider the bigger picture for a moment. Ludacris, huh? Hmmm..

The end result is this: If I am not able to figure out if a CD is worth buying, I can preview it. I also get to sample music from artists I’m not familiar with or even listen to genres I’m not used to buying. I get comments and email from readers who have mentioned they have gone out to purchase a CD or DVD that we have recommended. Some of them have even stated they have listened to the CD on AOL Music for free that week. Did you catch that? They went out and purchased a CD after they were able to listen to it for free for a whole week. It’s rather elementary, really, and I think that it is just the latest in what we are seeing on the internet in this age of digital media.

Not too long ago this form of free digital entertainment was strictly verboten. Now things are a little different. It has become a smart business model. Companies show upward spikes in sales when the preview model is applied. It’s not revolutionary; it’s just now really being applied to digital entertainment. In fact, this is really old hat… with a new sheen. AOL music has recently revamped their music site and is now offering song downloads for a price, and subscription-based internet radio stations (think XM). Think of the CD listening party as a service that draws in potential customers, not just to purchase on AOL Music, but really anywhere. AOL is not the only one; Apple and Amazon are on the same path. And it’s not just about offering free previews and services. They know that while entertainment is ageless, the way to access it is not. With new forms of electronic gadgetry available every year, the masses are able to access many forms of entertainment at work, at home, in the car, on the plane, or subway. Don’t get me started on storage. Heck, with the right gadgets, even when you are at summer camp in the wilderness you don’t have to be uncivilized. Thank goodness for that. Finally, being the nerd at summer camp has advantages!

As Christian has discussed before, television has been in on the act as well. CBS, NBC, and ABC are all putting episodes and web-only shows online mostly for free. I enjoy CBS’s Innertube, although I think they need to work out the kinks and make it even more user-friendly. It’s nice to be able to watch some of the current week’s episodes after they have aired. What’s the attraction with that? This past Tuesday night I missed the latest episode of NCIS. I love NCIS and The Unit. Tuesday nights is one of the few nights that I sit down and watch television. Sometimes, other, more important things come up. No worries. The next day, during a well deserved lunch break, I sat down to eat, and through the courtesy of CBS and Innertube, I watched the NCIS episode I missed the night before. Again, this isn’t revolutionary. The show was free to begin with, and reruns happen all the time. I could have watched it for free, oh… sometime next year. But through the Networks making shows available on the web, I was able to catch up before the next episode. This is increasingly important to producers, as serial shows are increasing in popularity. Shows like Lost, or even newer shows like Kidnapped or Smith, rely on viewers keeping up with the ongoing storyline.

With Ipod, Apple and Disney are providing even more ways to get digital entertainment in television and movies wherever you may be. Microsoft is not one to be left out when money is to be made. They recently announced their own media player, Zune (above) set for launch in November. Zune has some exciting changes with more focus on wireless capabilities and being software and content driven. Being able to share files with other Zune owners with WiFi technology will be cool. Heck, even Sony is getting television downloads to your PSP. With the disappointing performance of UMDs, this is a way to affirm Sony’s vision of the PSP as an all-in-one portable entertainment device.

With digital forms of entertainment growing larger in number, and the ways of accessing it increasing everyday, providers are pushing themselves further beyond conventional business models. They need to get our ear, catch our eye and make us aware of what they have to offer. Again, this isn't necessarily new. It's a familiar business approach, but applied in a new way. Will organizations like the MPAA and RIAA get what's happening or will they continue to be increasingly archaic and fight home entertainment and every new way to access it? Who knows? In the meantime, we can increasingly find ways to get content that doesn’t involve going to the music store, big box retailer, or Movie Theater. At the same time, providers are also finding ways to utilize technology to reach semi-luddites like myself, who still like to go to the music store or DVD section of the local big box retailer to browse. In simple terms, just because one of my favorite pastimes is going to the local bookstore and actually reading a physical book, that doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate being able to read an excerpt or find out what I can online, before I buy. What social implications this may have as far a societal interaction and the like, I can’t pretend to fully know. I suspect that some of what the soothsayers have been saying may be true and some of it- not so much. Humans still have the need for contact and each other. It’s just that sometimes it’s nice to be able to get the latest album from our favorite artist without having to drive and fight crowds.

Don’t forget to visit us over at The Shelf. See you there!

This commentary is the responsibility of J.C. Loophole and not the editors at Cinerati, who generally have more sense than Mr. Loophole possesses. Their willingness to allow him to post here can be interpreted as a case of charity, and in the long run, folly. Along with Wolf Flywheel, J.C. Loophole is the proprietor of The Shelf; a daily excursion into an eclectic mix of cinema, pop culture, history, politics, nostalgia, and recently, Halloween candy. Hey, we didn’t say it made sense; we just said it was fun.

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