The Future of Television

I got to speak for about five minutes on WBUR’s “Here and Now” radio program earlier this week about the future of television — an ironic topic for those who know me, since I’m definitely not much of a TV watcher. The irony gets even thicker because halfway through the interview I found myself saying that the outlook for TV networks and cable channels is not completely hopeless, because even though they are losing control of distribution, they still have quality content. After years of complaining about how crappy network TV sitcoms are, we can finally see what truly bad video looks like, and suddenly the sitcoms don’t look so crummy anymore. To some people, anyway — I admitted to the interviewer that as for me, my primary way of watching TV shows is on DVDs from Netflix.

Most of the interview, though, was about the trend that I think is now inescapable: Content producers no longer have control over the means, place, or timing of video distribution. With the advent of devices like Apple TV, Vudu, and YouTube-enabled TV sets — not to mention Tivo and Slingbox — we’re fast approaching a time when people will be able to watch whatever shows they want, whenever they want, without much regard for the distribution mechanism, be it broadcase, cable, satellite, DVD, or internet connection. As someone who is dependent on Netflix to watch HBO shows a year after they’re originally broadcast, I can’t wait.

WBUR’s Here and Now – January 29, 2008 (scroll down to “Future Television,” and you’ll need Real Player)

The Future of Television

Why I’m not following you on Twitter.

10. You’re not a real person, and you’re just following me as a way to get me to check out your spammy Twitter page and then click through to your adult dating site.

9. Egregious self-promotion: You post tweets about every single blog post you publish. I already have an RSS newsreader, ok?

8. You tweet live blow-by-blows about TV news, or football games, or presidential debates. I don’t mind that you tell me you’re watching something interesting — just don’t try to liveblog it over Twitter. If I wanted to follow the football game, I’d turn on the friggin’ TV.

7. Ninety percent of your tweets are about Twitter itself. Or Facebook. I get it already: Social media are remaking the web, and society. Now can we talk about something else?

6. You’re directing every RSS feed you generate into Twitter. Your Flickr photo, Tumblr blog, linkblog — they’re all shoved into Twitter like ground pork into a sausage casing. Seeing an automatically-generated message that begins “Links for 2008-01-24” makes me feel like the robots have truly taken over. Next!

5. Your Twittering is so fast and furious I was missing messages from my actual friends.

4. You Twitter about your bodily functions. So your iPhone lets you Twitter while you’re sitting on the can — but I don’t need to know that.

3. You respond to every friggin’ tweet with an @ shout-out. Learn to use D, ok?

2. You’re not following me.

1. I don’t know you.

Why I’m not following you on Twitter.

Gawker’s Nick Denton on the State of Blogdom

When Wired profiled Gawker Media founder Nick Denton in June 2004, we explained how he was strategically deploying “Movable Type, sexual prurience, and relentless snarkiness to draw enough of a crowd to lure advertisers.” That was back when Gawker consisted of just four blogs. Now there are 14. We caught up with Denton via IM.

You’re unusually public with your traffic data. Why?
It’s the most objective measure of a site’s appeal, a writer’s skill, and a story’s resonance. We want to rub those numbers in our faces.

Gawker seems to be a revolving door for writers and editors.
Writing for a popular blog is indeed incredibly demanding. But way more depressing: the tedium of an easy life and the obscurity of a position in a big media company.

You recently hired yourself as editor of your flagship blog,
Just when I think I’ve escaped to the elevated heights of moguldom, I get sent back to the gossip mill.

You pay writers based on the traffic they generate. What’s the secret to a successful blog post?
There’s no hard and fast rule for what drives pageviews. Unusual stories. Exclusive items. Lists. Email exchanges and documents. And yes, celebrity boobies. Here’s what’s changed: There used to be a shortage of attitude and aggregation, but there are now thousands of highly trafficked blogs. There’s a huge media ecosystem hungrily searching for anything original. The economics have changed.

What’s the next good target?
On the rare occasions I ponder my legacy, I think I should set up gossip sites to cover countries like Russia and China. To foment revolution, with a drip-drip of snarky stories about corruption. And then I remember that Putin reportedly has people killed.

Link: Gawker’s Nick Denton on the State of Blogdom

Link broken? Try the Wayback Machine.

Gawker’s Nick Denton on the State of Blogdom

MacBook Air’s Real Design Innovation Is Under the Hood

There are a lot of reasons not to like the MacBook Air, but most of them are missing the point, because it’s a luxury item aimed at executives, journalists, and perhaps people in the fashion and hospitality industries. It’s also Apple’s first volley in the ultraportable market, and others are sure to follow.

Let’s start with a few solid reasons to diss the Air: Its relatively high price, its curious lack of an internal DVD drive, the maddening fact that it has just one measly USB port (and no FireWire, or Ethernet ports). You can add in a few softer reasons for disliking it, such as the likelihood that the first few months’ worth of shipments may have some as-yet-undiscovered mechanical flaw, bug, or other failure of quality control, which seems all too common in new Apple products.

Not to mention, a super-thin, three-pound notebook may not exactly be the most durable thing in the world, which should give you pause, particularly if you’re considering dropping three grand on the 1.8GHz, solid state disk version.

But all these critiques miss the point, because the Air is not aimed at price-conscious buyers, and it’s not intended to be anyone’s sole computer. (Though some Mac enthusiasts will surely try to use it that way.) Instead, it’s meant to be an elegant, portable traveling computer for people who put a premium on looking good, getting a bit of work done away from the desk, and on not letting a laptop bag put deep creases in the shoulders of their Brioni sports coats.

For that market, the Air seems like a good bet to become a hit, provided it doesn’t turn out to be crippled by poor performance or bugginess. These people want an ultraportable, but they aren’t buying them yet because most ultraportables are butt-ugly, squarish looking things that have tiny keyboards and tiny screens, so even if they cost just $400, you’d still be embarrassed to set them down on the shiny, polished surface of a boardroom table on the 21st floor. A superlight, thin computer with a full-sized screen and keyboard is just the ticket for this market.

What’s more, the circuit board inside the MacBook Air is far smaller than the computer’s axe-head-shaped chassis. In his keynote, Jobs said this custom-designed board was about the length of a pencil, though that’s a pretty non-specific measurement. (Here’s an annotated photo of the MacBook Air circuit board with a pencil, showing that the RAM chips are indeed soldered on.) Whatever its exact size, it’s clear from the photos that Apple could easily shove the board inside a wide variety of devices for other markets, from some kind of tablet-like device, to more classic shrunken-keyboard style ultraportable (now known as a MID, if Intel has its way), to who knows? Maybe a reborn Newton running OS X Leopard. Well, maybe not that.

Bottom line: Apple has now entered the computer miniaturization game. It would be truly shocking if the MacBook Air were its only entry in that category.

Link: MacBook Air’s Real Design Innovation Is Under the Hood

Link broken? Try the Wayback Machine.

MacBook Air’s Real Design Innovation Is Under the Hood

CES Party Report: Mary J. Blige Performs for Monster Cable

Monster Cable threw a massive party for its favorite retailers Tuesday night at the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas. The entertainment? Nothing less than six-time Grammy winner Mary J. Blige, who held nothing back in an intense, soulful, high-energy 19-song set, supported by a five-piece band and three backup singers.

For the thousand-plus lucky people in the ballroom, it was a terrific show by an R&B star who worked as hard onstage as anyone in the music business. It was also a demonstration that Monster will spare no expense in order to keep its retailers happy. After all, without motivated sellers (and massive marketing), who would want to buy Monster’s ridiculously expensive gold-plated cables and connectors?

But first, the awards. Monster CEO Noel Lee kicked things off by rolling out on his now-ubiquitous Segway. (He rides it everywhere.) He spent the next hour handing out commendations: Most Monsterous E-Commerce Retailer, Most Monsterous Domestic Distributor, Most Monsterous International Retailer… At some point, the even the editors in the audience had been desensitized enough that they stopped wincing at the deliberate misspelling of the word “monstrous.”

Each award came with one of the most singularly monstrous trophies ever to grace a stage: A massive RCA plug made of brass which — of course — had been gold-plated.

Eventually, the star of the evening hit the stage, at about 10:30pm. From then on, it was all good. The high point, for me, was standing in the front row for a Blige’s moving, soulful cover of U2’s “One.”

After the show ended at midnight, hundreds of VIPs filed out of the Paris and into the adjacent Bally’s for an after-party with an array of musical talents in two big ballrooms. I have no idea how late the party went or who showed up, as I left after just half an hour, heading back to the comfort and Wi-Fi connection of my hotel room in Treasure Island with a new Mary J. Blige CD in my bag and a bunch of photos from the show.

Link: CES Party Report: Mary J. Blige Performs for Monster Cable

Link broken? Try the Wayback Machine.

CES Party Report: Mary J. Blige Performs for Monster Cable