Hard News by Russell Brown


On the Box

I grabbed an interview with Tom Rogers, the CEO of TiVo, on Monday, which will be excerpted on this week's Media7 (see the bottom of this post if you'd like to come along). Sadly, I couldn't blag my way into the main event of his visit -- a lunchtime briefing at the Westin for agencies and media buyers to explain to them how their free-to-air TV model is going to work when anyone can fast-forward through their commercials.

I'm guessing the answer was: principally through flags and commercial offers that pop up, more-or-less in context, while the viewer is using the device. Example: TiVo's partnership in the US with Amazon, which lets you buy Oprah's book of the month while you're still watching Oprah. How far they've got that from the Brave New World of Commerce to something a lot of people are actually doing, I'm not sure.

The market that does seem to be working is movies-on-demand from Netflix and Blockbuster, and commentators seem quite exercised about TiVo's new partnership with the big US retail chain Best Buy (Best Buy promotes TiVo hardware in its stores, possibly integrates TiVo software into other devices, and uses TiVo as a marketing platform).

For me, the ability to smoothly view YouTube via a box attached to my TV would be great (I refuse to even look at an Apple TV until it gets a refresh, and the PS3's YouTube application is hilariously awful). TiVo provides that as part of a subscription service in the US -- but won't do so, at least at first, in New Zealand or Australia, where there is no monthly fee to use the box (strictly speaking, American TiVo customers pay the sub to use the programme guide).

What you will see via broadband on TiVo here is TVNZ's on-demand programming -- both catch-ups of programmes already screened, on-demand movies (from Blockbuster, one would think) and some exclusive on-demand TV programming. Plus, of course, it's a digital video recorder and you can order pizzas with it.

But this is going to be a crowded space. Next month, Panasonic NZ launches this fat, sleek little piggy: a Blu-Ray recorder with two Freeview tuners, PVR functionality and a YouTube application. There are already TV sets with Ethernet ports, and (in the US) built-in YouTube apps and Netflix service.

TiVo in New Zealand will be more open, more networkable and more expandable than MySky. It's a powerful brand. But the 30,000 people most likely to want a TiVo already have a MySky. It's not going to be easy to sell an $800 box to the rest of the country.


There were two striking things to come from the coverage of San Diego Comic-Con over the weekend. One is the extent to which it seems the entire media industry is looking to geek entertainment for a solution. As the New York Times put it:

virtually no one who makes or stars in Hollywood blockbusters can afford to sidestep this four-day conclave, which is all about direct communication with the fans. It is also very much about marketing, an event that has acquired major importance on the industry’s calendar; major studios promote their biggest coming projects, and television producers for shows like “Lost” and “24” try to stoke interest in their approaching seasons.

Which would be one thing. But when the producers of Glee (a feel-good college glee-group TV drama that recently piloted to some acclaim) turn up, we're way out of classic geek territory.

The other striking thing is how much of it all involves Peter Jackson.

I09 has the Jackson roundup: District 9, The Hobbit, The Lovely Bones, Tintin, The Dambusters (with accompanying replica aircraft project) and a prospective miniseries based on Naomi Novik's Temeraire series of novels.

Amazingly, they left out the review of the New Zealand Film Commission.

EW has video of the forum it sponsored, with Jackson and James Cameron. They get to the great white hope of the cinema: 3D. (Tim Burton and Cameron will have Alice in Wonderland and Avatar available in 3D, and Disney is hauling out one of the holy texts of geekdom, Tron.)

Cameron is having Titanic converted for 3D screening, and Jackson is trying to convince Warners to stump up to do the same with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but the studio feels there aren't enough 3D cinemas, "and I say 'there will be in two years when the thing's finished, so why don't we just get started on it?' .."

"There'll be a lot more 3D screens when they know that the Lord of the Rings films are going to be available," Cameron observes.

Although Cameron suggests that the consumer electronics industry might quickly catch up and start offering 3D as home entertainment, it seems more likely to be something to pay to go and see for a while yet. You can't pirate bums-on-seats entertainment.

In the same forum, Jackson talks about working with Universal Studios on a King Kong amusement ride to replace the one that burned down a couple of years ago: a "super-Cinerama" 3D visual experience at 60 frames a second, viewed from a tram travelling through the middle of the Really Big Fight between Kong and the T Rexes, with the "hot air and the stinky breath of the dinosaurs on people … and when Kong gives the dinosaur a right hook there'll be goo flying out of his mouth … "

District 9 -- which emerged after studio politics sank the Halo movie Jackson was going to make with South African director Neill Blomkamp -- looks great.

The film is based on Blomkamp's earlier short work, Alive in Joburg, which can be seen here on YouTube:

Or downloaded from Archive.org here.

And the District 9 trailer is here.


As I noted above, the Tom Rogers TiVo interview will feature in this week's Media7, with an accompanying panel discussion. There will also be some korero about Maori Language Week with the Rev Hone Kaa, Maori Television's Julian Wilcox and Naida Gllavish, who, as a toll operator in 1984, famously stood up for her right to greet callers with "kia ora". And Gary Gottlieb will talk about headline-driven legislative panic.

If you'd like to join us in the audience, hit "Reply" and let me know asap. We'd need you at TVNZ around 5pm tomorrow.

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