November 26, 2012

Netazon Now! A Modest Proposal...

In 1993, AT&T produced a series of ads showing what the future would be like. "Have you ever watched a movie you wanted to," asked the narrator in a comforting tone, "the minute you wanted to? You will."  Well, that commercial interested me greatly, because I'm a television and movie enthusiast of the highest order, but that prediction, much like the one for video payphones, has not come to fruition, at least not yet. We're so darn close though! And it's that proximity, close but not touching, to the glorious possibility of being able to access any tv show or movie ever made that is driving me bonkers with anticipation.

I see myself, in a near future world where leisure time is capacious, stepping onto my treadmill and voice-activating my Televiso, which I will have named Ebert. "Ebert," I will say, " Show me Bewitched, Season Three, Episode Seven." Three seconds later I will be walking in time with the cutest nose wiggle ever filmed. This vision is such a foregone conclusion that it doesn't seem outlandish in the least. Eat that, George Jetson.

This scenario is somewhat possible today. I could buy a treadmill. I really need to, especially after that non-stop-free-food-on-the-high-seas-honeymoon I just experienced. My current TV doesn't talk, and it's certainly not named Ebert, but that's a small matter. I even have a few choices for accessing the aforementioned episode of Bewitched. I could buy the entire Third Season on DVD, currently $9.99 at I could purchase the episode on Amazon Instant Vuh-deo ( obscure Gerry Todd reference) for $1.99. I could be a naughty boy and download for free a rip of the episode through a torrent site, at the risk of bringing shame on my family and incurring the great wrath of the almighty copyright holder. It's feasible, but plug in some different examples and things start to fall apart.

What if, instead of Bewitched, I was yearning to see that classic episode of The Beverly Hillbillies where Jethro decides to bring business into his diner,"The Happy Gizzard," by hiring topless waitresses? My future vision bites the dust faster than Granny running barefoot around 90210 on a moonshine jag. 

Let me take a second to briefly explain why, in the year 2012, one of the highest rated sitcoms of the 1960's is not completely available to the public. The show, as any city slicker could tell you, was a Filmways production. Filmways was succeeded by Orion Productions, who failed to renew the copyrights on the first fifty-five episodes, which fell into the public domain. That's why there are literally thousands of bargain bin dvds containing episodes from the First Season and the first half of Season Two. However, these episodes feature poor quality prints and alternate opening theme music, because cheapo dvd companies couldn't be bothered to clear the rights for the original Flatt and Scruggs theme. With me so far? It gets way more confusing. 

The estate of series creator Paul Henning had access to some top shelf prints and released two sets, with the original theme intact, under the banner "The Ultimate Collection." These were pretty decent releases, and contained most, but not all, of the first two seasons. Meanwhile, the other, non-public domain, seasons found a new home with CBS DVD, which is a subsidiary of Paramount, which is a subsidiary of Viacom, which is majority owned by National Amusements, Inc., which is owned by Sumner Redstone, whose soul is probably owned by Satan (pure speculation). 

The folks at CBS DVD decided to release season sets of The Beverly Hillbillies, but because the market was already inundated with episodes from the first season and a half, their first release was Season Two. "The Official Second Season" was released in October of 2008 and "The Official Third Season" quickly followed, in February of 2009. Of course, by this time, DVD aficionados were hopelessly bewildered and irritated by the whole state of affairs. Sales must have been poor, because no other releases have seen the light of day since. 

So once again, corporate greed and incompetence is ruining my utopian vision of the future, and that's only one example. The most requested-for-dvd show ever, Batman (1966), has been in Bat-Limbo for years, since Warner Bros. owns the rights to the characters, and Fox owns the rights to the actual shows. That's right. Two companies, each standing to gain a fortune in revenue from getting together and agreeing to release a tv series on DVD, have opted instead to screw themselves by staging the media conglomerate equivalent of a Mexican Standoff. 

But rights issues and unfinished seasons are only the tip of the iceberg. The viewing access model that best fits my future model of televised bliss is probably streaming. The introduction of cloud technology means that every single tv show and movie could conceivably be available for instant selection someday. Right now, it's a mess. Netflix has a great model, one low monthly fee for unlimited content, except their content is woefully limited. Bewitched? They never heard of it. The Beverly Hillbillies? Keep dreaming. A quick search for Humphrey Bogart movies shows me that I can instantly watch either The African Queen, The Barefoot Contessa, or Sabrina. Forget learning how to whistle, shweetheart. This just blows. 

Amazon Instant Video has a great deal more choices, which you have to purchase or rent on a case-by-case basis, but some of their television season prices are absurd. If you, wishing to honor the memory of recently departed actor Larry Hagman, wanted the First Season of I Dream of Jeannie to reside in your cloud, today you would have to shell out $47.99! Of course, you could buy each episode for $1.99 each. If you eventually end up with the whole season, you will have spent almost sixty bucks! Compare to the price of the DVD version, $11.99, and it becomes very obvious: Sony wants you to buy the DVD version. It probably requires a lot less overhead for media giants to make their content available on the cloud when one considers the manufacturing and distribution costs of DVDs, but they pressed those DVDs and by God they are going to move every last copy before they lower the price on the streaming equivalent. How disgustipatin'! DVDS and Blu-Rays are nice, but any reasonable person can see that streaming is the future, period.

I'm not even going to bring up Hulu Plus, which charges a monthly subscription fee AND inundates the viewer with ads, effectively charging twice for the same service. And cable, well, the less said about cable, the better. I cut the cord once, and I am about to do it again, this time for good.

Of course, the truly sad part of all this is that by the time the corporate bosses get their heads out of their rumps and make all these classics from their vaults fully available on the cloud at a decent price, many of the people who would most be interested in said classics will be too old to care, or rolling over in their graves. 

A big fix is needed, and I am modestly proposing the following: There must be a great summit meeting between Viacom, Warners, Fox, Disney and all the other big and small players who own the rights to everyone's television and movie memories. These media conglomerates must agree to purchase and merge Netflix Streaming and Amazon Streaming Video. They can call it Netazon. Then they must get to work, restoring and uploading every single thing in their vaults to Netazon. The Beverly Hillbillies. All nine seasons. Mighty Mouse cartoons. Every single one. Every movie ever made, even the ones with Pauly Shore. Every episode of Match Game. Hell, every uncut episode of The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson. In short, everything.

With everything available, cable will become instantly antiquated, or at least need to be dramatically reconfigured. Most of the networks would become merely aggregators of The Great Library. Of course, the cable giants will be plenty busy, upgrading their internet service so that the United States ranks #1 globally in internet speed, instead of #26, which is what it ranks now.

The best part of all this for the Netazon shareholders. Virtually every American household is going to want access to this nifty service. So, take a hundred million households and multiply that by a reasonable monthly non-ad supported rate, say $100, and we're talking mondo mega-profits. All the media corporations will remain separate entities, but will share in the profits of Netazon, based on what percentage of content they have on the cloud. They will also reinvest a proportional amount based on their take of the profits. The profits will be so mammoth, even the smallest shareholders will be rich beyond their wildest dreams. To prevent shenanigans, Congress can set restrictions on Netazon promoting any political or philosophical agendas. Since Netazon will be ad-free, advertisers will have to shop their wares in magazines and newspapers, saving the print medium from impending doom. Millions of new jobs will be created, and Netazon can donate 1% of it's profits to keeping the social safety net solvent forever (so subscribers will live longer).

So to recap:

Every tv show and movie ever produced available in an instant, uncut and ad-free, for one reasonable monthly rate.

No more manufacturing or distribution costs.

Huge profits.

Fastest internet speed in the world.

Millions of new jobs created to improve internet, digitize content, and maintain cloud.

No more competition or costly litigation surrounding rights issues.

Infinite profits.

No more piracy concerns.

Social safety net secured, lifespans increased.

Ten billion dollars a month from subscriber fees=Insane Profits

A reduction of crime, as America's criminals will be too busy watching their long lost favorite shows.

No more obnoxious commercials interrupting one's favorite programs.

Only truly unique and valuable networks will remain, to provide news or aggregate genres.

No more obsessive fanboys (like me) whining about the unavailibility of some obscure "brilliant but cancelled" tv treasure from 1971.

Oh, and did I mention profit$ out the ying yang?

Well, that's my pitch. If you like this idea, spread it around on Twitter and Facebook and let's get the ball rolling! I need my Beverly Hillbillies color seasons fix, ASAP!

November 21, 2012

Supes And Me

I have watched with interest the recent modernization of my childhood heroes. There is a lot to admire about today's superhero comics. Graphically, they are very sophisticated. The colors are sharper, the layouts are amazing, and today's crop of artists clearly possess great skill and confidence. I might say they overdraw at times, but that is a minor quibble. The stories themselves are infinitely more complex, and character development is paramount. At times, they can seem like super soap operas, but that's also a minor quibble.

Today's superhero comics are far from junk, but I can't get into them. The Superman currently appearing in Superman comics is not my Superman. Today's Superman belongs to another generation. My Superman was a brilliant concoction of Mort Weisinger-era mythology with Curt Swan art, George Reeve paternalism, and Christopher Reeve heart. I cannot imagine that today's Superman could inspire today's young people like my Superman inspired me and my generation. He seems cold and distant to me, too much alien, not enough human. I'm not sure I would feel comfortable hanging out with him in his Fortress of Solitude.

My Superman. He was from Krypton, but you never would have known it. He had "Oh Shucks" Kansas charm and just the right amount of savoir faire, so as not to seem cocky. He was prone to sentimental gestures, like spending a few minutes of his day building an orphanage at blinding speed. He was not that complex. He was who he was and he did what he did, just to help out where he could. His admiration for people was self-evident. He realized his limitations and was not above asking Rao (his word for God) for a helping hand every now and then. You could often find him, in his downtime, having a beer with Bruce, Oliie, and Hal, just one of the guys. He loved his dog. He was a wonderful man.

Everything fit together in his Pre-Crisis universe. Forty years of mythology fit together without seeming contrived. There was another Superman that appeared in comics before my Supes appeared on the scene. He lived on Earth-2 and they crossed paths occasionally.

Curt Swan drew my Superman and gave him a seemingly endless variety of facial expressions. When something struck my Superman funny, he had a belly laugh that not even Santa Claus could top. When some rogue threatened harm to one of my Superman's pals, his eyes did not crackle red with rage, but I definitely knew he was angry and about to take care of business.

My Superman was 29 years old for a long time. He lived through The Twist craze, Kennedy's assassination, flower power, and the women's lib movement. He probably had a few disco records in his modest apartment, which was located at 344 Clinton Street. Apt. #3B. He didn't change much. He was steady and secure in himself. I think sometimes the idea of character development makes writers think they have to constantly keep developing a character. My Superman had character, and he was fully developed. He was like a big brother to me, and I mourn his loss.

Adolescent power fantasies are a dime a dozen. Heroes are harder to find. I meet a lot of college students in my line of work, and I'm struck and, I admit it, sometimes surprised by their thoughtfulness and desire to improve their world. I even think some of them would prefer my Superman over this new guy that's flying around in comics. Maybe they don't need a Superman at all. If they ever do, I hope they'll give my Superman's stories a chance. He was a good guy to know.