Dear media industry: blocking VPNs doesn’t make you money — it feeds piracy

In January, Netflix expanded to 190 countries. Rather tellingly, Chief Executive Reed Hastings noted: “It will take a while to bring the catalogs together.” That’s something of an understatement. In some countries, even Netflix’s own series are absent from Netflix, due to earlier deals being cut with local cable providers. Elsewhere, to say libraries have slim pickings is putting it mildly.

For many users, this never made any odds. Prior to Netflix showing up, people used it anyway by way of VPN software. This spoofs your location, enabling you to browse and play media ‘geolocked’ to a specific country, for example the Netflix US catalogue if you’re living in the UK. When Netflix expanded, people carried on as if nothing had happened, presumably after looking at their local catalogues and wondering if tumbleweeds were about to bob across the screen.

At one point, Netflix didn’t seem to care about VPNs. Although they were technically against the company’s terms, it was perhaps pragmatic to turn a blind eye. Netflix was still getting paid, and by extension so were the companies who owned the series people were watching. Only media executives don’t see things this way. Instead, they consider people using VPNs the new ‘home tapers’, killing the industry through stopping movie and television companies making local deals. In other words, a single Netflix catalogue is bad for business, when you can in some countries carve off the good bits and sell them to a dozen individual networks, each of which charges for access.

Of late, the most common thing I’m seeing regarding Netflix is people quitting the service, on account of no longer being able to access content they were enjoying. Their alternative, almost without exception: returning to torrenting. I wonder whether movie and television execs will ever wake up to the reality of modern media distribution. Having a service available worldwide is irrelevant if the content doesn’t go with it. And if you restrict the content, people will simply stop paying.

March 15, 2016. Read more in: Movies, Opinions, Technology, Television

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Apple to close down, because the company is just so sick of analysts

Tension was in the air yesterday as Apple announced its financial results for its fiscal 2014 first quarter, ended December 28, 2013. “We posted record quarterly revenue of $57.6 billion, and sold 51 million iPhones,” said Tim Cook, angrily adding: “But we could have been responsible for every smartphone sale worldwide and made $200 billion in profit, and it still wouldn’t have been enough for those analyst jerks.”

Cook said Apple should have been happy with its 4.8 million Macs sold, record iPad sales, and monstrous profits of $13.1 billion, resulting in Apple’s cash mountain reaching unprecedented levels. “The thing is, we know thousands of hacks worldwide are already smashing their heads against their keyboards, ham-fistedly trying to spin our success into failure, and say that—yet again—Apple is doomed,” fumed Cook. “Fuckers,” interjected Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer, kicking his chair out of the window and storming out of the room.

“I’m just so sick of it,” seethed Cook, “and so we’re shutting the whole thing down. As of tomorrow, no more Apple. I’m going to spend my time hiking and getting to grips with whatever piece of shit Android I’ll now have to use—and you’d best get used to that too. I’m done here.”

Analysts reacted positively to Cook’s statement, noting that while, in the short term, Apple shutting down entirely was not a positive step, it would finally provide plenty of room for meteoric growth should the company decide to reopen again at some point in the future. In after-hours trading, AAPL was up 37 per cent.

January 28, 2014. Read more in: Apple, Humour, Television


The sheer horror of having to watch a credit sequence on Netflix

Harry Marks (who writes over and Curious Rat) and I have differing views about the state of media and how companies should respond to modern technology. When we’ve discussed things on Twitter, he’s very much in the ‘black and white’ camp regarding piracy, and will even go so far as to rebuy media digitally rather than ripping CDs to iTunes. I’m generally more of the opinion that media companies should be doing a lot more to make content available, accessible, affordable and not hugely annoying to use. Although I almost never torrent anything (one of the side effects of having a reliable but capped broadband connection), I find it hard to sympathise with companies whose work is widely distributed in that manner when they’ve been region locking it in some way or charging obscene money.

Today though, I’m mostly of the same opinion as Marks regarding his takedown of John Siracusa, who decided to whine about credits being attached to every episode of Netflix’s House of Cards. Marks says:

First, the problem was not being able to get the content we wanted when we wanted it. Then, came the laments about pricing. How dare seasons of television cost anything more than [INSERT ARBITRARY NUMBER… I REMOVED FROM MY RECTUM]!

Now, people are getting their panties in a twist over having to sit through opening credits? Where does it end? At what point does this blatant selfishness turn into, “I hate this actor/these mushy love scenes/this director. If you remove all of that, I’ll be beating down your door to give you money, then complaining some more.”

Netflix has its problems—the lack of a ‘wish list’/’save for later’ option is especially annoying—but credit sequences aren’t one of them. They’re a staple of TV, and although you might choose to watch several episodes in a row, until the systems are intelligent to recognise this and chop out the credits, you’ll just have to sit through them. Except you won’t, because Netflix—unlike many shiny discs—doesn’t lock the content it’s streaming and you can fast-forward through it. (Additionally, such sequences often have ‘previously’ sections, which might include a useful reminder that you’d otherwise miss, thereby making your experience worse. This won’t be rectified until we’re all wearing Google Chip In Brain™, some time in 2017.)

Mind you, here’s where I depart again from Marks, who says:

So, I’m going to finish this season of House of Cards and sit through every opening credits sequence because people worked hard to build it.

But if and when I also watch that show, I’ll sit through one credits sequence and fast forward through the rest. What I won’t do is complain about them.

February 25, 2013. Read more in: Technology, Television


An interview with Murray Gold on 2020’s Doctor Who theme tune

There’s a piece on The Guardian today about Manchester honouring pioneering electronic music genius Delia Derbyshire. Her most famous work is the arrangement of the Doctor Who theme, where she crafted something genuinely otherworldly, using cutting-edge electronics well over a decade before the likes of Kraftwerk took to synths. Famously, her arrangement was so unique that the theme’s composer asked: “Did I really write this?” Derbyshire replied: “Most of it.”

Theme tunes are important. They set the tone. The original Doctor Who theme and at least some of the subsequent versions are spooky, chilling, ethereal compositions. They say to kids: prepare to be afraid. Compare that with the theme in the resurrected Doctor Who, which increasingly buries the beautiful electronics, piling on more strings and bombastic garbage. I’m not naive enough to think that the original theme could ever be used today as-is, but the new theme doesn’t say “this will scare you”—it just says “this will be noisy”.

The big problem is that current composer Murray Gold only appears to have one tactic when he’s asked to amend the Doctor Who theme for a new series: he just adds more stuff. There’s also a hint of subversion, in him adding orchestral elements that somehow make the theme ‘his’, with new melodies that distract from the original. Assuming the show survives, and Gold doesn’t move on, I’m half expecting an interview along these lines by 2020:

Interviewer: So, Murray, tell us the thinking behind the new Doctor Who theme.

Gold: Well, it needed more! It had to be louder! It just needed MORE!

Interviewer: But as far as we can tell, the new theme is now actually compressed white noise.


I’d love to see the reverse. Next time the Doctor Who theme needs reworking, they should strip it back. Make it something eerie again, and set the scene for a show that’ll have kids scuttling to hide behind the sofa, rather than making it yet another in a long line of dull, directionless cacophonies.

January 11, 2013. Read more in: Music, Television


DVD industry: all you need to digitise your collection is a car. And money. Everyone else: what?

You’ve got to hand it to the DVD guys. Clearly responding to the kind of dickishness I wrote about recently, they’ve now set upon a course of action that will—shock!—enable you to unlock your DVDs and format-shift them to digital. Hurrah!

What’s that? There’s a catch, you say, Michael Weinberg, reporting for Public Knowledge?

The program, which would have merely been ill-advised had it been announced ten years ago, today stands as a testament to the ability of movie studios to blind themselves to reality.


The entire program is designed to give consumers a way to take movies they already own on DVD and turn them into more portable digital files.

Sounds perfectly reasonable to me…

As reported by the LA Times, the first phase in this process is to let DVD owners bring their DVDs to a store

Sorry, what was that?

As reported by the LA Times, the first phase in this process is to let DVD owners bring their DVDs to a store

Right. I thought I’d gone insane for a moment and you’d said the first phase in this process is to let DVD owners bring their DVDs to a store! That would be bonkers!

As reported by the LA Times, the first phase in this process is to let DVD owners bring their DVDs to a store


that will handle the digital conversion. Tsujihara described this process as allowing consumers to convert their libraries “easily, safely and at reasonable prices.”

If only there was a way for people to convert their libraries easily, safely and at reasonable prices at home, with, say, a PC or a Mac and a copy of Handbrake or similar software. Although, clearly, that wouldn’t help regarding the ‘safely’ bit, because, as we all know, Handbrake has a little-known ‘fire shuriken from your display’ feature that is randomly activated. [SUB: PLEASE CHECK THIS INFO PROVIDED BY A DVD GUY]

Oh, but hang on! This is about money, isn’t it? These guys want you to pay again for the content you’ve already bought and have therefore finally figured out a typically inept industry means of having you do so. Those scallywags! But really: taking your DVDs to a store? Waiting while the conversion is done? Waiting for some unspecified point in time where “Internet retailers like will email customers to offer digital copies of DVDs they previously bought”? Saying that ‘eventually’—presumably when cars fly through the air and meals are consumed in exciting sci-fi pill form—consumers will be able to put DVDs into PCs that will upload a copy, like how, um, Handbrake works right now?

If only there was a business model in a similar field that already existed, that wasn’t totally stupid, and that these guys could use as the basis of their own.

March 7, 2012. Read more in: Technology, Television

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