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Spellbound - Blather, Rinse, Repeat
March 16th, 2009
10:26 am

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Spellbound
A while ago, I tried using the NetFlix/XBox360 movie streaming tool and found it wanting. Maybe I was downloading a bunch of stuff using the other machines in the house, squeezing out the movie bandwidth, or maybe there were other problems upstream. Probably both of these and more.

So, I took another run at watching streaming movies, and had a better experience. I looked through my NetFlix queue and discovered that "Spellbound" was going to become unavailable at the end of the month, so I decided to leap on it and seize the convenience. The whole notion of movies winking in and out of availability is odious to me, whether it's Disney pulling movies out of its vaults once or twice a generation to manufacture scarcity, or if it's more esoteric movies falling out of visibility because the audience is too small to keep the DVDs in print.

While I'm grumbling about this, one of my movies for the "best movies of my lifetime" project isn't currently available - The Last Picture Show, featuring a young Cybill Shepherd. I'm told it'll be available again in April, maybe. I asked TiVo if it was showing anytime sooner than that, and it couldn't help me, so I'll wait a few weeks. Practically speaking, that's fine. I'll still grumble, though.

Anyway, I watched Spellbound (the 2002 documentary about the 1999 national spelling bee, not the 1945 Hitchcock thriller). Fun and suspenseful, complete with multiple local reader boards offering CONGRADULATIONS to the local spelling CHAPMs. There was also a scene of a father firing word after word at his son, which seemed dangerous to me - yes, it's a high-volume approach, but it also clusters words together alphabetically, which might allow you to rely on nearby words too much.

I also winced when this same father asked for EP-uh-tome. Ah, well.

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From:chiabrit
Date:March 16th, 2009 06:21 pm (UTC)
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From being on the inside of the online content market I have to tell you it is as frustrating as hell trying to stay nimble to handle these transition of rights from the content owner to the content provider with the appropriate availability windows. It's like air traffic control only nobody looses their lives if two products collide. We are getting there though.

Regarding NetFlix and the 360. I had some similar experiences with the 360, I also got a Tivo Series 3. This time though I hooked up the series 3 with a hardwire instead of wireless. Now my streaming quality is 720 most of the time with the only interruptions coming from my cable providers network.
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From:tsmaster
Date:March 16th, 2009 06:41 pm (UTC)
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Oh, I'm sure the logistical dance is amazing - I don't put too much blame at NetFlix's feet for this one; it seems like the content owner is ultimately being capricious. If NetFlix can be faulted, it's for putting up with games being played (for example by Disney).

It's somewhat petty of me to demand that every movie I want to watch be available all the time, but we're living in a world where that's entirely imaginable, and just about the only thing standing in the way is the tedium of transferring the bits off of DVDs onto servers at NetFlix. And, once that's done once, the bits have no good reason to become unavailable. I know that Disney (as an example, they may not be the only one that does this) deliberately pulls product off the market, which I can only understand as a means to artificially increase value by introducing periodic scarcity into the market. If you're OPEC, you can manipulate oil prices this way. If you're selling plywood or kerosene as part of natural disaster preparedness or relief, this sort of price manipulation is considered gouging, and people take a dim view. If it's Pinocchio, it's a celebrated event when the movie comes back to market for the first time in years.

The logical extension of this is for the Disney.com webservers to only be available for one hour a week, or for ABC to broadcast programming one day a month.


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From:chiabrit
Date:March 16th, 2009 07:32 pm (UTC)
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Yup your on the money. Showtime does this too, they will put up episodes for the current season being aired but when they are planning on releasing that season on DVD they pull it from Netflix for a few months first.

Another interesting angle was Quantum Leap, we wanted to watch this with the kids. Well the first season was available on download. Sweet! Apart from two or three episodes which you ended up having to rent the DVD's for.

The good news is in the long term we are headed to that media consumption ideal of pulling down what you want and when you want it. Pushing out 5 to 10 years I expect the actual creation of shows will be driven by entirely different rules than the broadcast norm now.
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From:ginsu
Date:March 16th, 2009 11:15 pm (UTC)
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If you're OPEC, you can manipulate oil prices this way. If you're selling plywood or kerosene as part of natural disaster preparedness or relief, this sort of price manipulation is considered gouging, and people take a dim view. If it's Pinocchio, it's a celebrated event when the movie comes back to market for the first time in years.

If you're OPEC, you control two-thirds of a limited and crucial natural resource -- oil -- that you never created in the first place. There can be no serious competition for OPEC except from completely different sources of energy.

But if you're Disney, you only control products of the imagination you did create. There is a limitless supply of products of the imagination, meaning there is constantly enormous competition for market share and attention.

If, in the many decades since Pinocchio came out, all the combined efforts of all the creative talents in all the world have not dimmed the appeal of Pinocchio, what does that mean? Maybe it means Disney did a bang-up job. I think it should be allowed to do precisely what it wants with its own IP indefinitely.

It also means that if a guy like you wants to learn to draw, create movies, market them, pay all the costs involved at every stage, and ultimately succeed in beating Disney at its own game, you get to control your own stuff instead of having governments dictate to you what you can and cannot do with it.

Doesn't that seem fair?
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From:tsmaster
Date:March 16th, 2009 11:26 pm (UTC)
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Well, I'm not talking about government tinkering in IP here, I'm talking about customer expectations. Sure, the Disney corporation has the legal right to bring products to market and subsequently take them off the market. As a customer, I'm going to find these sorts of stunts irritating, and I'm going to take my business elsewhere.
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From:ginsu
Date:March 16th, 2009 11:37 pm (UTC)
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Okay, but what happened to the comparison to OPEC/price-gougers?

You basically seem to say: "Since there isn't really a crisis and I'm not really desperate and supply isn't really limited, I can do what I want, and what I want is not to spend money on Disney."

I think consumers should do exactly what you're doing, and faster. The sooner they turn away from the stuff they deem uncool (for any reason), the faster newer cooler stuff will come to market.
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From:tsmaster
Date:March 17th, 2009 12:13 am (UTC)
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There isn't a crisis, in that if I can't see the movie I want now versus two weeks from now isn't going to change my life substantially.

Supply IS artificially limited, in that the movie I want to see has moved off the available list.

I can sort of do what I want, in that I wanted to see The Last Picture Show, and I can't until April.

I'm disenchanted by Disney's shenanigans, and have cooled to their branding.

I don't know who it is that's responsible for The Last Picture Show not being available until April. If Columbia is reissuing a Super Deluxe Director's Edition, I will be mildly disgruntled that such a thing is interfering with the existing version on NetFlix. If it's something more arbitrary, I'll be less pleased.

what happened to the comparison to OPEC/price-gougers?

I'm saying that in some cases, consumers dislike supply-side market manipulations so much that they enact laws. I'd like customers to behave consistently and treat market manipulation as a signal of shady business in all cases.


I think that this are all transitional flailings as Disney and Columbia struggle to figure out what their roles are in a world where people grow to expect an always-on access to content.
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From:brandifer
Date:March 16th, 2009 06:59 pm (UTC)
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I also winced when this same father asked for EP-uh-tome

Heh, I had that problem once. Still do, occasionally. See, in my formative years I was reading like mad, anything I could get my hands on. I remember reading a book about the Kennedy assasination in third grade. About fourth grade I stumbled upon my dad's treasure trove of Louis L'amour. I discovered Tolkien in fifth grade and read all of them back to back three times in a very short period (and many times since). In sixth I had picked up an anbandoned paperback of Robin Cook's Coma and was halfway through when it got confiscated out of my desk by my teacher. My mom was mortified and I got my butt kicked (but couldn't figure out why, by that point I'd read a lot worse, hah.)

So anyway, there were a TONS of words I was reading and comprehending that the adults in my sphere weren't using in speech, so I didn't know the proper pronunciations. And I was too busy reading to bother looking them up, I just read 'em how I saw 'em, figured out the gist of what they meant and went on. Luckily I have married a walking, talking thesaurus who DID get a proper education who has a way of correcting me without making me look or feel idiotic. :-)

To have such a moment captured in film would make me cringe, so I can feel just the tiniest bit sorry for the guy, for just a second. ;-)
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From:tsmaster
Date:March 16th, 2009 07:13 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, I've definitely noticed that there's a slice of my and my friends' vocabulary that indicates a youth spent more in reading than in talking. And fantasy books don't help things out - exotic words, even if they come to us from verbal folklore, just don't show up in speech enough to get convergence. I've got a friend who pronounces "wyvern" as WIV-rin, which is just a mild dislexic slip relative to my pronunciation of WY-vern.

I do feel bad for the guy, and for the son, because getting the pronunciation right would help him prepare for the contest better. I resist the temptation to gloat for all the obvious reasons, also because the father might not have been a native English speaker, so I'm sure it's rough. Still, the father's a great example of the parent that puts a huge amount of effort into their child's activity (stage moms being the classic archetype). To hear a gaffe like that amidst such a focused preparation regime was jarring.

And pretty consistently, the parents and the contestants admit that there's no way to practice perfectly - no way to be perfectly prepared for the contest - there's going to be words that you won't have studied, and if you're unlucky, you'll get a word you're unprepared for, and you'll be eliminated.

One other nice thing about the movie is that it reminds me that spelling is easier for some people than others - even at the higher levels, it takes a lot of work to keep -ible and -able straight.

Edited at 2009-03-16 07:13 pm (UTC)
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From:indygoddess
Date:March 16th, 2009 08:56 pm (UTC)
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The thing that pisses me off about what Disney does is, it's *not* the only time this generation they'll release a movie! I have Little Mermaid on vhs, and also on dvd. They re-released Toy Story at least twice that I can think of (including a special edition of some sort that made me mad 'cause I already had the regular edition). And I thought the whole point of Netflix was to be a perpetual library of movies so you don't have to depend on whatever the current crop at the local store is.

My son does the same thing with reading words and then mispronouncing them. But the most egregious example I can think of is a popular singer with a song that includes the word "hyperbole" in it, mispronounced. Hyper-boll. Yuck.
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From:tsmaster
Date:March 16th, 2009 08:59 pm (UTC)
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Perhaps Hyper Boll is Uwe Boll's older brother.
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