Netflix Is The Competition, Not The Enemy

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It seems that a day doesn’t go by without one trade website or another talking about traditional media company launching a “Netflix competitor”. This epic, and excellent, analysis by Mumbrella’s Nic Christensen has a great summary for anyone who has been asleep for the last two years. It seems, at times, as if Netflix is viewed as the single biggest threat to the traditional media industry. This opinion was summed up recently by Rupert Murdoch, who said:

As an industry, we need a competitor – a serious competitor – to Netflix and Amazon.

Whilst there is no doubt that both companies, Amazon in particular, are fierce competitors nor that online video/IPTV is a serious business opportunity, focussing on them as if they are the biggest threat the industry faces misses, I think, two points. Firstly, the last few weeks have shown that both businesses are actually more traditional than they may previously have seemed. Last month saw Netflix’s stock fall after it released disappointing numbers. As Ben Thompson pointed out in his analysis of the results:

Netflix seems to be very highly elastic. In other words, there is a very strong correlation between price and subscriber numbers. This limits the upside of the stock.

And

Netflix is hit-dependent…In other words, Netflix can temporarily goose gains by releasing must-see shows, but it can’t sustain them.

Amazon has also had a bad few weeks. Or rather months. Since January it’s stock has lost 1/3 of its value. If we turn to analysis from Ben Thompson again, he highlights one of the problems with Amazon’s recent strategy – its investment in content (costing an estimated at $1 billion in 2014) is a distraction from its core business, ecommerce.

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So, both companies are investing huge amounts of content (something that should be applauded) and are at risk if this doesn’t pay off. The news that HBO may be considering selling internet access to its content direct to consumers suggests that both may be at real risk and highlights the similarities between their businesses; it’s just that one has historically used cable & satellite to deliver shows to viewers.

With that in mind, which industry is it exactly that needs a competitor to two businesses that seem, to me at least, to be part of the content industry? Maybe the cable networks, but then that would mean they would need to stop getting such a big chunk of their (flat-lining) revenues from companies like Netflix & Amazon. And House of Cards probably wouldn’t have been made (and subsequently rebroadcast on Foxtel). As Kevin Spacey put it so eloquently:

If you watch a TV show on your iPad is it no longer a TV show? The device and length are irrelevant … For kids growing up now there’s no difference watching Avatar on an iPad or watching YouTube on a TV and watching Game Of Thrones on their computer. It’s all content. It’s all story.

The second point that gets missed when Netflix (and Amazon) are posed as existential threats to the media industry is that they aren’t the real enemy. If your business involves making money from content, whether through advertising or charging for it, then the enemy is piracy.

Just as the people who criticise the likes of Spotify for the music industry’s travails are blaming the wrong thing, so is anyone who believes that Netflix or the like are threats to the TV industry; they’re not, they’re just the next evolution of the TV industry. The enemies of Murdoch’s businesses are all the people who would rather illegally download a show than pay for it.

Not the search engines that people use to find the illegal streaming sites. Not the services that charge people to watch content. No, the people who have decided that stealing is an acceptable lifestyle choice, often because they don’t want to pay the (relatively high, in Australia at least) cost of cable TV where many of these types of shows are available, are the real enemy.

Foxtel have obviously recognised this and have reduced their prices as a result (trying to sue consumers into submission won’t work, as the music industry discovered about a decade ago). The questions now are how much how many people will be willing to pay. If Netflix does launch here, there will be 4 or 5 major streaming services, each likely to be priced at about $10 a month.

This means people might need to pay up to $50 a month just on streaming services to (legally) access content. Or, about as much as a basic Foxtel package is already. Seeing as only 30% of people do that now, why does anyone think people are suddenly going to start doing it in the next year or so? It certainly won’t be because of (pretty bad) branding.

There are probably a set number of people who will pay for content and all of these services competing against each other will ultimately do little to combat piracy. If the whole industry were to come together, by which I mean the whole industry, then they probably could. Or when a couple of these services have failed, and the others can pick up their content rights.

So, probably the latter.

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Staring At The Shoes Of Giants

Back in 1991 Damon Albarn claimed that Leisure, blur’s début album, as going to ‘kill…baggy‘, the genre popularised by the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays which had also spawned Northside. As it turned out Nirvana killed grunge but blur were right about one thing – baggy wasn’t the major influence on Leisure, shoegazing was.

I was reminded of this fact after hearing a recently re-discovered demo version of Setting Sun by Oasis. The track was released as a single by The Chemical Brothers, with Noel Gallagher on vocals but it now seems that, rather than writing them specifically for that track Noel must have done an Aphex Twin*.

Whereas the version released by The Chemical Brothers sounded like a modern reworking of The Beatles Tomorrow Never Knows this demo has more in common with Oasis’ with the tracks on Leisure. It is, basically, a shoegazing track. Washed out but amped up guitars, a slightly hazy feeling and a nasally vocal. It’s shoegazing 101. The scene may have been almost universally maligned but its impact was felt far and wide.

As mentioned, the debuts of both blur and Oasis owed massive debts to the likes of Ride, My Bloody Valentine and pretty much everyone else on Creation Records which was basically the official label for the shoegazing scene. And whilst many of the bands who briefly shone during the late 80s & early 90s, such as Slowdive, Chapterhouse and Revolver rarely made a dent on the charts, others fared better.

A bunch of lads from Wigan called Verve** took the washed out guitar sounds made popular by shoegazing bands and added a dollop of Doors’ style mysticism; having refined this mix over three albums with a twist of northern attitude, they went on to outsell Oasis with Urban Hymns.

Ride, another Creation signing, were one of the first bands from this scene to properly crack the mainstream; two of their first three EPs broke the Top 40 (the first Creation releases to do so, 7 years after its formation). Their debut album, Nowhere, fell just short of the top ten but Leave Them All Behind, the first single off of their second album hit number ten.

As with The Verve, Going Blank Again saw the band building on their roots, with traces of The Who and even The Byrds to be found, alongside samples from Withnail & I. Highlighting the connections, bassist Andy Bell went on to join Oasis.

Of course Ride’s efforts in the charts would pale in comparison to Oasis after they too had been signed to Creation. But whilst they were often compared to the likes of The Beatles or the Sex Pistols, in their early (and best) work, Oasis had, as I’ve said, clear links to the (generally Southern) bands who were often mocked as being ‘The Scene That Celebrates Itself‘. Adorable, one of the last signings to Creation before Oasis, have often struck me as being a prototype for the latter with a good looking, cocky front-man and songs that melded melody and razor-sharp guitars brilliantly.

Looking back at Oasis now, I can’t help thinking that if they had stayed truer to these roots their later releases would have been less like a successful Bootleg Beatles than they were.

*Aphex Twin once handed in one of his own tracks having been paid to remix a Lemonheads song because he had forgotten to do the remix.
** They added the ‘The’ after being sued by American jazz label Verve; the band’s initial offer to change their name to Verv, thereby ‘dropping an e for America’ was rebuffed.

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Like A Tech Version Of Today

It’s strange the things that you miss when you move to a new country.

In Ireland I missed tea-bags (you can’t get the scientifically proven better bags that are PG Tips Pyramids) whilst in Australia I often miss the BBC. Whilst back in the UK recently (for a massive 6 hours) I had the pleasure of listening to Radio 4′s Today – I can listen to Gilles Peterson’s 6 Music show at any time, but Today only seems to make sense listened to live, in the morning.

So, I’m very glad to have found Benedict Evans’ podcasts for Andreessen Horowitz; with his cut-glass accent and dry sense of humour, his razor-sharp analysis of what’s happening in the world of tech is like my very own tech-focussed version of Today.

Here he is drilling down into a bunch of recent mobile stats and pulling out real, actual insights (as opposed to the common-sense observations that so often get passed off as them), in this case into the way that technology changes the way people do their jobs, but not necessarily the jobs themselves. He uses car-rental companies as an example. You should listen.

Here he is distilling down the three hours of the keynote presentations from Google’s recent I/O conference.

Truly, the internet makes the world seem smaller every day.

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RIP Horace Silver

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The first Gilles Peterson show I really remember listening to is still one of my favourites.

It was 1994 and a friend at university had been sent a tape of one of Gilles’ Sunday afternoon shows for Kiss which he kindly copied for me (illegal downloads, analogue style). What blew my mind then and still sums up what I love about Peterson’s approach to music is that in the same show, and almost back to back, he played Josh Wink’s acid classic Higher State Of Consciousness and the epic Sayonara Blues by The Horace Silver Quintet.

Whilst I can’t say I still listen to the former much anymore, Sayonara Blues has gone on to be one of my favourite ever pieces of music. It led to me buying quite a few of Silver’s other albums and it’s why I was really sad to hear of his passing, though at 85 he certainly had a good innings, and an eventful one at that*.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQT2-dvUhZQ

Anyway, words can’t do justice to the man, so I’ll finish where I started, and leave you with this tribute mix that Gilles has made of Horace Silver’s amazing back catalogue.

*Including being part of that photo you can see at the top of this post, A Great Day In Harlem, taken for Esquire in 1958. An amazing story in and of itself.

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Happy Birthday Stevie Wonder

Earlier this week Stevie Wonder turned 64. I meant to blog about it on the day but have been feeling a bit under the weather. Anyway, better late than never, here’s a post to celebrate the birthday of, arguably, the single most important musician of the 1970s. Bowie would possibly be a close 2nd*.

Like so many of the greats his work has fallen a long way since he was at his peak, but honestly, he’s still responsible for more great music, directly and indirectly, than pretty much any musicians of the 20th Century, apart from Lennon, McCartney and a few other people.

And, with that in mind, above we have a very apt McCartney track to which, where Stevie is concerned, the answer is yes, whilst below Mr Wonder shows that he could even improve on The Beatles.

Happy birthday Stevie, long may you be with us.

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A History Of Boy Bands In Shreds

These days the phrase boy band is often used as an insult but really it’s a term with a rich history. And it’s amazing to see how much boy bands of the past have in common with those of today.

From The Beach Boys…

to One Direction…

to Daft Punk (more of a bot band, but you get the idea).

Shreds. They’re a meme. Who knew? It’s like the spirit of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 formed a band.

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Adventures In Britpop

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I recently got back from a holiday on which I had my normal book binge, to the extent that my Kindle melted (though that’s another story). One of the books I read was the autobiography of Louise Wener, former singer with Britpop band Sleeper.

Reading a book that charts the course of the Britpop explosion seemed rather apt seeing as everyone seems to have decided that this year is the 20th anniversary of Britpop (presumably based on the fact that both Definitely Maybe and Parklife were released in 1994). Wener’s book includes references to blur, Oasis and a host of other players in that scene, both big and small, with plenty of dirt, gossip and snide asides chucked in for good measure. It also details the undoubted sexism that pervaded much of the music industry, and probably still does.

In the book Wener seems to hold a bit of a grudge against blur because they’re arrogant and won’t let her band share blur’s rider when they support them on the Parklife tour. That wouldn’t surprise me – Damon has always come across as pretty arrogant whilst anyone who has read Alex James’ own incredibly entertaining autobiography will know that they were at the centre of a whirlwind that would send most people slightly mad.

Of course, it was probably supporting blur on that tour that helped Sleeper break in to the big-time. And it’s also pretty certain that no-one was likely to base the birth of Britpop on the year when any of Sleeper’s records came out*. Because, what the book never really admits, is that the reason that the likes of blur did better than Sleeper is because Sleeper were basically shit. With one hit single**.

Despite that, it’s a good read for anyone who lived through that time and was as in love with much of the music as I was. If you do want entertaining books by people who also actually managed to make more than one good record, I’d also recommend the previously mentioned Bit Of A Blur by Alex James and the painfully honest Telling Stories by Tim Burgess of The Charlatans.

If you’d rather just have an aural trip down memory lane, I’d recommend these two playlists – one a BBC 6 Music Best of Britpop, the other one I put together myself taking in some of the best tracks from 1994.

*If anything I would suggest that it was 1993, the year Suede by Suede and Modern Life Is Rubbish by blur both came out as I’d argue that Definitely Maybe isn’t really a Britpop record at all.
**They actually had 6 that cracked the top 30, but Inbetweener is the only one that has held any charm.

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Song For My Sugar Spun Sister

For the last month we’ve had my sister staying with us here in Sydney. On Monday she left to head to LA, San Fran and NYC.

This one’s for you Amy, it was a blast having you.

As was seeing Public Enemy.

And the impromptu night in Surry Hills which inspired the playlist below.

Cheers sis. Have a safe trip and come back soon.

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Damon Albarn – Lonely Press Play

Damon Albarn is a genius. I really don’t think there’s much doubt about that (or at least I hope there isn’t).

However, at the start of Lonely Press Play, the second release from his long awaited debut album Everyday Robots, I was worried that he was, once again, going to purposefully make his music less listenable by adding in unnecessary bleeps and beeps.

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The first track that was released, also called Everyday Robots, was, for me, a bit like a lot of Thom Yorke’s recent output – just a bit too weird. And I thought that Lonely Press Play might suffer the same fate. 

But then, it didn’t. It’s just, well, beautiful.

 

 

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