Although Douglas Rushkoff hangs his story off How NFTs Will Kill Netflix on a particularly shiny/grubby bit of modern technology, the real issue is more about how consumers will react to having to chase their favourite TV shows from app to app, from subscription to subscription:1
A new world of NFT-based media may liberate us all to watch just the things we want. No more Netflix or Amazon subscription; I just buy my NFT version of a show via blockchain, straight from the creator. But it’s going to make for an almost unfathomably vast, unnavigable sea of individual offerings. It’s hard enough to find things now. And if we need to make a monetary choice every time we do the digital equivalent of flipping the channel — or maybe after a short preview — it turns an evening of viewing or reading into a series of purchasing decisions.
Plus, if every artist is out on their own, what happens to that feeling of content neighborhoods, a channel’s personality, a magazine’s perspective, or even a posse of artists? It’s an entropic extreme of every creator for themself. […]
Which gets to the heart of how I feel about Apple TV+. Since yesterday I’ve already watched the season finale of Foundation 2 and the latest episode of Invasion 3 and before the weekend is over I’ll have watched the next episodes of The Morning Show and Swagger and possibly Dr. Brain and Finch.
I can’t help but think that in the end those are stories from the various showrunners that happen to be funded and distributed by Apple TV+ because Apple offered the best deal for the producers, rather than shows that Apple TV+ are responsible for shaping and bringing to our screens and which are guided by a common sensibility. Obviously as an outsider I have no clue whether the showrunners are going to be telling tales in their memoirs about how helpful Apple TV+ was in shaping their projects, or going the other way and complaining that they had to fight off emails from Tim Cook urging them to keep it PG-13 4 or unhelpful casting suggestions, but at this early stage in the life of Apple TV+ it’s unlikely showrunners are going to be telling tales about the downsides of working with Apple TV+ when the company are still a very deep-pocketed potential source of funding.
It’s almost as if some whizzkid entrepreneur needs to invent the idea of a streaming service that brings together a bunch of shows under one banner and let viewers see shows that match their idea of fun. They could call it a "TV station," maybe?
- Possibly too late-breaking to be included in Rushkoff’s story, see also the way European Star Trek fans are going to have to chase down Star Trek: Discovery now it’s moved from Netflix to Paramount’s as-yet-unavailable-outside-the-US streaming platform just days before season four launches. I’ve enjoyed the first three seasons of Star Trek: Discovery, but I’m not sure I’ll bother adding yet another subscription service/app to my monthly roster. As with Succession season 3, another show I enjoyed but which is on a service I don’t subscribe to any more, I’m content to add Star Trek: Discovery to the list of shows that I’ll catch up with some day if I get a chance but won’t lose sleep over not seeing as it unfolds. It’ll be a shame not to follow events alongside the US audience and to end up searching for discussions of the twists and turns and plot developments a couple of years after they’ve gone cold, but that’s not really any different to following US shows that ended up exclusively on SkyTV in the UK only to show up on their associated terrestrial TV outlets well after they were old news to satellite TV viewers.5 ↩
- A real curate’s egg of a show. The Terminus storyline, while mapping onto Asimov’s overall direction, is taking huge liberties with Asimov’s story and not in itself all that gripping. The story of the triple-headed Cleon dynasty is almost entirely invented from whole cloth and is the best thing about the show. ↩
- I respect the showrunners’ willingness to keep our focus on the fates of a small number of survivors scattered across the planet, but when the world is being rocked by a first contact that seems to have gone very, very badly for a large portion of the human race I’m not sure that keeping us in the dark about the bigger picture is such a great idea. Perhaps in season five I’m destined to look back and recognise the wisdom of this approach because I’ll be blown away by the scope of the story they’ve laid out for us, but that makes the assumptions that a) I’m still going to be watching come season five, and b) that the showrunners are still getting money to produce the show at that point in the story. ↩
- In fairness, that whole producers-getting–emails-from-Tim–Cook furore early on doesn’t seem to have been borne out by the output of Apple TV+. I’ve not seen anything on Apple TV+ that would look out of place on terrestrial TV, but that’s just the nature of most of modern TV, trying to avoid putting off any more of the audience than it must while telling the story it wants to tell. ↩
- The likes of Eureka , Fringe and the various later Stargate series come to mind. Chewy speculative fiction, good genre fun often with lots of opportunities for fun crossovers with similar shows, but not major brands in themselves. (Though goodness knows the Stargate brand keeps on trying to be reborn before the SG-1 main cast age out of their former starring roles.) ↩
The musical tells the true story of 7,000 people stranded in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland after all flights into the US are grounded on September 11, 2001. As the people of Newfoundland graciously welcome the “come from aways” into their community in the aftermath, the passengers and locals alike “process what’s happened while finding love, laughter, and new hope in the unlikely and lasting bonds that they forge.”
This musical – possibly the most thoroughly Canadian bit of content I’ve heard of in years – has been on my to-see list for quite a while, so given the lack of opportunities for catching it live in a theatre lately this is a nice bonus. I knew there was some reason1 I kept paying2 that Apple TV+ subscription.
- Apart from Ted Lasso, and the prospect of more seasons of For All Mankind, and the imminent adaptation of Asimov’s Foundation series, and whatever chance there is that Mythic Quest might return for another season despite word that there is “no plan yet” for that at the moment. ↩
- Well, given the way Apple have extended free months of Apple TV+ at the drop of a hat I don’t get to pay for it again until next January, but I’m perfectly willing to pay for Apple TV+ when the time comes. (I don’t see myself paying for an Apple One package any time soon.) ↩
Season 2 of BBC4’s French speculative fiction series Missions has popped up on iPlayer.
I wish it hadn’t been so long since the first season aired (May 2018), because while I had a vague recollection of the show’s big plot points I’d almost entirely forgotten much about the characters and their relationships, which meant that I spent the first couple of episodes of the second season trying to remember which characters had done what back in 2018.1 After a couple of episodes I’d got my head round what was going on, and I was glad I hadn’t gone to the trouble of a full rewatch.
Basically, the story in season two is directly connected to what went on in season one, but it’s very clear that humans are, at best, pawns in a vastly bigger story that is nowhere near being explored by the close of season two. Based on what we’ve seen so far, I have little confidence that season three will suddenly turn this into an interesting story so I think I’m done with Missions.
- Granted, iPlayer still has season 1 available, but I wasn’t inclined to do homework for the new season by rewatching the previous season. It wasn’t that impressive a show, or one I was all that certain that I’d follow through on once the plot started rolling out. ↩
Good to see the Nebula Awards getting this one so thoroughly right:
THE RAY BRADBURY NEBULA AWARD FOR OUTSTANDING DRAMATIC PRESENTATION
The Good Place: “Whenever You’re Ready”, Michael Schur, NBC (Fremulon/3 Arts Entertainment/Universal)
Strange to think that the series finale aired several weeks before the first lockdown. We’ve had plenty of excellent science fiction this last year or so – The Expanse and Devs being the clearest small-screen genre highlights – but nothing quite matched the sheer delight of seeing what Eleanor Shellstrop and friends were getting up to week after week, and the way they absolutely pulled off the landing. Chidi talking to Eleanor about how what was facing him before she woke would be like the water in a wave returning to the sea still gets me every time, dammit.1
If Apple TV+ ever gets round to buying the rights to non-Apple content – I don’t think that’s likely to happen any time soon – but work with me here – the rights to The Good Place should be very high on their to-buy list.
[Via More Words, Deeper Hole]
- I verified that by watching the series finale again this morning, after reading the news of the show’s Nebula win, and it still does it to me now. ↩
Upon reflection, deciding to start my day before it was time for work by finishing my watch of HBO/Sky TV’s Chernobyl might have been a mistake.
There’s lots to praise about the miniseries itself – a very well acted piece which didn’t skimp on showing just how drastic the consequences of the accident were for so many humans (and domestic pets1) anywhere near that corner of the then-Soviet Union at the time and long afterwards – but the material in the programme was definitely not destined to lift the mood.2
Spending my work day at home, wrangling data from spreadsheets and databases and emailing those numbers to folks, inside and outside my organisation, who in practical terms didn’t have access to the information buried in those data sources for themselves kept me busy and kept my mind off the bleak picture Chernobyl painted of how the world works, but heightened the sense that I’m as much of a "bio-robot" as the guys the series showed spending time on the ruined rooftop chucking radioactive debris off the roof. I provide a bit of functionality that my employers could in theory computerise given sufficient time and money,3 but (so far) haven’t found it reasonable to spend time and money implementing.
Anyway, really good TV. Very well worth a look.
- See episode 4 in particular, as the relevant Fanfare thread revealed plenty of viewers who almost noped out when we followed a trio of soldiers whose job was now to shoot all the adandoned pets in the area around the plant, both to save the animals from a lingering death and stop them from spreading the contamination further to surrounding towns and cities. ↩
- Interesting to contemplate how the United States or the UK would have coped with a Chernobyl-scale crisis. Probably not as differently as we might hope, I think. Different jargon justifying the actions you take, for sure, but when you’re tinkering with nuclear energy generation the scale and scope of the consequences of something going wrong are such that throwing fragile human bodies at the problem might end up being all you can do. ↩
- I fully acknowledge that I’m lucky to have been able to carry on doing this work from home rather than being furloughed for the last year and a bit, but if my employers wanted the work I do to keep on being done month after month – which they definitely did – there wasn’t any other way to make that happen in the short term, particularly given the speed with which we had to transition to working from home. Time will tell whether in the medium term my employers decide to make it a priority to spend the money to automate my team’s job out of existence. (In the long term they almost certainly will automate our jobs out of existence.) ↩
An interesting take from Alan Sepinwall on what a nice job the writers did in season 2 of For All Mankind of bringing together various storylines come the season’s climax:
“I started jogging again.”
This sentence is uttered by astronaut Gordo Stevens (Michael Dornan) midway through the Season Two finale of For All Mankind, the Apple TV+ series depicting an alternate history where the Soviets landed on the moon first, triggering a never-ending space race. Gordo’s statement will likely not go down in the annals of quotable dramatic television with “I am the One Who Knocks!” or “That’s what the money is for!” It seems an utterly banal statement of fact, not nearly as colorful as those iconic declarations. But in the context of this FAM season, it feels just as potent, and serves the same purpose that all serialized television ideally should: It makes the viewer feel as if, to borrow another famous line, all the pieces matter.
I can’t shake the notion that delivering a season of TV where we can look back and see that most, if not all, of the the pieces fit into an overall story shouldn’t be that remarkable. Isn’t that what a writers’ room is supposed to deliver, unless external pressures1 get in the way or there’s uncertainty about where the story is going or how long it’s going to continue. We’re assured that our showrunners have their story mapped out for seasons to come; I do hope they’re not going to be forced to admit that that plan was ‘Do whatever it takes to keep Apple funding us and find a way to keep Joel Kinnaman in the story. Maybe in season 5 we’ll have his digitised face and voice being used as the front end for the AI that runs the Callisto colony.’ rather than ‘By season 6 humans will be mining the asteroid belt and building a permanent station on Callisto.’
[Apologies that I’m expending so many words on a show that’s trapped on Apple TV+, which is to say somewhere most people aren’t watching. What can I say: I am watching and I’m finding it interesting, so I’m writing about it here. In the medium or long term, will Apple – or Sony, who I believe are making the show for Apple TV+ – end up selling repeat rights to another streaming network? Will we all one day be able to buy, or even rent, For All Mankind on Amazon? I’m sure right now Apple’s answer to that would be "Hell No, come and watch it on Apple TV+", but five or ten years from now will all that content remain buried on the 10th-most-watched-streaming-service?]
Interesting that Sepinwall makes passing reference to Halt and Catch Fire, another favourite in these parts that got better as the focus was shared with the equally talented and ambitious female characters who found ways to make their careers alongside the men who had been the show’s focus at the outset. For All Mankind has from the start been about how in this alternate timeline NASA had been pushed by the White House to bring women astronauts into the space programme,2 and about how they proved to be as capable as the male military/test pilot contingent they served alongside. The thing is, the storytelling of For All Mankind has (so far) focused less on how American society has changed in a society where the space race went on much longer than in our timeline, and much more on how in NASA results seem to trump expectations being based on gender roles. Is that reflected in wider society, and are we going to see evidence of that?
By and large the astronauts the storylines have been following are living in a bubble: all the signs are that the wider society they live in may be enjoying a somewhat faster introduction of technology – electric cars, a global videophone and d-mail3 network – in part because the space race kept on pushing technology forward. However, the general impression is that there’s still plenty or racism out there in wider society, and an assumption that everyone is aiming for a heterosexual marriage (or at least, isn’t flaunting any other lifestyles.) Ellen, our astronaut-turned-NASA-Administrator-and-Reagan-favourite still can’t contemplate a political career AND an out lesbian relationship.
As of season 2’s end, the main story is coming to the end of alt-Reagan’s second term of office in 1985. It’ll be interesting to see where things stand come 1995. My guess would be that we are set going to continue with a story where we focus on a small group of astronauts and NASA staff who are living in a bubble where gender is no barrier to advancement, provided you really are twice as good as the next (white, heterosexual) guy.
- “You can’t change that character’s job to one that would move him out of the group the storyline is focused on: he’s by far the biggest name we’ve got when it comes to promoting the show. Keep his character in the same job and slap on another couple of layers of make-up to keep his character in place through yet another time-jump.” ↩
- Purely for image purposes, given that in this timeline the Soviets put a woman astronaut on the moon before the Americans had so much as put a woman in space. ↩
- That’s Digital Mail, not Electronic Mail. I have to confess, I’m a little relieved that Apple don’t appear to be pressuring the showrunners to insert more Apple technology in this future. Give it a couple of seasons. By the time we get our storyline to 2015, everyone will have gone through the stage where they listened to music on their dPods and will be listening to music via their dPhone and walking around with dPads, and we just won’t mention that their d-devices all have an Apple logo. ↩
From Dirty Feed, a magnificent, thoroughly documented deep dive into the history of one of the greatest punchlines in the history of British television:
Sad to contemplate that none of the three actors involved is still with us, but what a memorial to their work together on a programme that shaped a generation’s view of how government worked.
Fascinating to see the history of that joke pieced together, and the very different version of the punchline used in earlier incarnations.
If it turns out that Apple TV+ has the highest-quality content out of all streaming services…
A new study reveals that Apple TV+ has the highest-quality content when compared to Netflix, HBO Max, Prime Video, Disney+, and Hulu. […]
In terms of their libraries of content, Apple TV+ has the highest percentage of “good” and “excellent” at almost 86%. But […] it has the smallest offering at just 65 titles.
… does that help make Apple TV+ a sound idea for the company?
So far I’ve greatly enjoyed several Apple TV+ shows (For All Mankind above all else, but also Calls and Mythic Quest), and found several other Apple TV+ shows (Little Voice, On The Rocks, The Banker, Little America, The Morning Show and Ted Lasso) to be decent-to-pretty-good. The thing is, I could as easily pick a similar number of really good shows from Netflix or Amazon Prime Video or Now1 or Disney+. There’s not yet a distinctive ‘type’ of show that Apple TV+ is getting to be known for known for and it’s way too early to tell2 whether Apple are going to prove to be better at supporting shows long enough for them to build an audience.
I don’t doubt that Apple has sufficiently deep pockets to keep up the level of spending on content for the Apple TV+ streaming service for quite some time to come, but will they? Surely Apple are just one more potential source of finding for producers; yes, there are plenty of Apple devices out there, but Apple are as close-mouthed about audience numbers for their streaming service as everyone else, so who can say how well their shows are doing? Putting out numbers and surveys that use figures like this as proxies for audience numbers doesn’t really address the question of which shows are doing well compared to their rivals.
In this era where the streaming services are competing for a monthly subscription from their audience, how come most of these Apple TV+ shows seems to disappear from the online discussion online within a couple of weeks of their launch.3 That cannot possibly be a good sign, can it?
[Via Daring Fireball]
- Recently rebranded from NowTV in the UK, and heavily associated with the Sky TV empire. Basically, a way (with “No contract!”, as their ads emphasise) to get access to a slice of Sky TV’s library for those who don’t want to commit to the full package. ↩
- Come back after a decade and there might be sufficient data to form a meaningful picture of Apple’s track record. ↩
- Am I just looking in the wrong places, or is it just that commentary on TV shows is so dispersed nowadays that it’s a full-time job to keep on top of it? This was much better in the days of Usenet, IMHO. ↩
A couple of minutes into his video speculating1 about a new-to-the-MCU appearance by a guest character in this week’s episode of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, MovieBob reminds us, which storyline the Power Broker first showed up in Jack Kirby’s comic adaptation/expansion of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Comics are, as MovieBob says, Weird…
I’m still sceptical that the Power Broker’s identity will be shown this season. Unless Disney have an unannounced appearance for the character in one of the next phase of feature film projects, they’ll get more mileage from dropping the name in a TV series like this then leaving a portion of the fan base to speculate – feverishly, as is their way – about the Power Broker being at least a supporting character up in every future MCU storyline set on Earth-616. Disney’s executives must be delighted at how much bang for the buck they got from encouraging viewers of their recent TV tie-ins/spin-offs to create publicity for the franchise by picking up on the tiniest hints. Until they reach a point where the blizzard of speculation about what might be to come creates so much hype that the actual films are seen as a disappointment (and, to be fair, there’s no sign of that) they can use the fannish anticipation to keep audiences hyped for what might be to come for a while yet.2
- Wrongly, or at any rate prematurely as it turns out, that the identity of the as-yet-unrevealed Power Broker character would turn out to be Sharon Carter. ↩
- Not because a significant portion of the population cares about the Power Broker. More because the sheer volume of chatter about these shows adds to the impression that these are interesting, so media need to devote attention to them. For goodness’ sake, I’ve spent some of this morning listening to a Vanity Fair podcast which includes a section speculating about the identity of the Power Broker and what’s next for the character of Sharon Carter after she’s apparently reacted to being dropped by S.H.I.E.L.D. in the wake of the Civil War storyline. Condé Nast think this is worth putting a podcast out over, and the actress gets to spend time pretending that there are things she’s not allowed to tell us about this plot! How much would Disney have to spend to get these column inches/screen time by other means? ↩
After watching this week’s instalment of For All Mankind early this morning1 I found myself dipping into the first half dozen episodes of new Apple TV+ show Calls before starting work for the day, then picked up on the final three episodes this evening.
I was aware that this show was coming, but had deliberately not gone out of my way to find out more. I realise that goes completely counter to the modern trend that pushes viewers to try to find out as much as possible about forthcoming programmes and speculate endlessly online about what’s to come2 but I’m here to tell you that you definitely want to watch Calls with as little foreknowledge as possible of what you’re about to hear.
Yes, I said "hear" not "watch." Calls is a TV show, but it could as easily have been a podcast or a radio drama. We never see any of the cast, and while the on-screen graphics do help viewers visualise what’s happening and who is talking to who, the audio is sufficiently well-produced that (IMHO) it’s perfectly possible to get what’s happening without visuals.
No, I’m not going to say anything more about what happens in the story: all I’ll say is that if you have any interest at all in a well designed and delivered piece of speculative fiction then Calls is a very worthwhile experience.
Apple TV+ probably won’t get the credit they deserve for pulling it off, and given that Apple TV+ is very much the runt of the litter3 of modern streaming TV services Calls might be destined to be looked back on as an interesting failure. I do hope not; it’d be good to see more experiments like this.
- No, I wasn’t sitting there trying to catch For All Mankind once it dropped on Apple TV+, I just happened to be awake at 5am and realised I wasn’t getting back to sleep so decided I might as well fill the time until the sun came up by watching something to keep my brain occupied until it was time to prepare for the old working-from-home-office-job. ↩
- Contemplate Disney’s recent WandaVision multimedia extravaganza for a prime example of how that can go. ↩
- Also, to be fair, I suspect Apple TV+ isn’t pulling in the sort of viewing figures that Apple would have hoped for, though I’m not sure they’d want to admit that publicly just yet. When the most critically-acclaimed shows you have – Ted Lasso and The Morning Show – are between seasons Apple TV+ just isn’t exactly the focus of much talk in social media, once you look beyond the more Apple-centric corners of the internet. ↩