Kind Of A Big Deal: NBC and Apple Part Ways Over iTunes

The internet is aflame with the news that NBC won’t be renewing its iTunes contract with Apple. As NBC accounts for 40% of the videos downloaded from iTunes, this seems like a bad development for Apple. However, Silicon Alley Insider does some quick calculating and discovers that the amount of money invovled really isn’t that much, considering. So what’s this all about?

It’a about control. NBC isn’t happy with the piracy controls on iTunes, and NBC wants to be able to set the price of its videos. With the news that NBC will be jointly launching the YouTube like Hulu, is it hard to imagine NBC using that service to sell its own video dowloads? The prevailing theory is that Apple needs NBC more than the reverse. I’m not sure that is case.

iTunes is the 800 lb. gorilla of media downloading. It accounts for the lion’s share of music downloads, and it sells a lot of video dowloads as well. For NBC to just up and leave that means they are leaving millions of downloads, and dollars, on the table. They don’t have any service they can turn to that has anywhere near the amount of credibility or mindshare as iTunes. In other words, where ever they decide to sell their videos, many people won’t know about it. That’s lost eyeballs and revenue. It will cost NBC a fortune to promote any new venture in an attempt to gain consumers, costing them even more money.

Even Hulu has its own war to wage against YouTube. Ask anyone who isn’t a tech geek if they’ve even heard of Hulu. I bet the answer will be ‘no’. Hulu may be a great service, but NBC and News Corp. have an uphill battle for recognition, which will cost them viewers in the short run, and potentially in the long run. If Hulu is a YouTube clone, then it won’t really be a good place to purchase video downloads anyway. Which leaves NBC with nothing that even comes close to iTunes’ reach.

But let’s say NBC is able to get a download service up and running. If they think they will be able to charge more per episode while saddling each episode with more DRM, causing more of a headache for the viewers, they are in for a rude awakening. iTunes, as the market leader, has set the cost of a download at $2/episode. While I’m not happy that you are purchasing DRM-riddled video, I do know that for most people, that isn’t an issue as they can watch it with no problems. This ease of use will make it difficult for NBC to convince iTunes users to switch to their service to get NBC programs, especially if they charge more per show. Heck, even if they charge the same, people aren’t going to switch because I can guarantee NBC’s offering will be harder to use than iTunes, and people hate to switch from what they know.

This whole thing smacks of the ‘old’ media not ‘getting’ the new media, or its consumers. I don’t see this move as being a smart one on NBC’s part, and I’m thinking that Steve Jobs has similar thoughts.This move will do nothing other than annoy many NBC/iTunes customers when the December deadline passes.

Maybe NBC will surprise us. Maybe they will actually take a risk and attempt to reach as many people as possible for their videos. They could follow the lead of several of the music companies and offer DRM free videos, this ensuring their videos will play on almost any device, be it PCs, iPods, PSPs or any other video device. Make the downloading of shows simple and reasonably priced and they would have a winner. And, they would have the tech community firmly on their side, acting as free evangelists. But that would require some flexible thinking on their part. Something I don’t see happening. I think the big winners with this move will be the torrent sites. Ironic. As NBC tries to gain more control over their videos, they will actually lose it. This is a battle they, or any media comany, simply can’t win.

What does this have to do with science fiction you may ask? Well, NBC provides video downloads for a little show called Heroes, as well as for Galactica. There’s no telling how much iTunes sales impact the popularity of these shows, but I have seen people on the ‘net refer to downloading the shows and then writing about them. That will stop after December. And with new shows like Chuck and Bionic Woman, it seems like NBC is cutting its nose to spite its face.

[Update 1 (09/01/07)]: It gets better! Apparently, NBC wanted Apple to charge $5 per episode for NBC content. And here I was, thinking NBC understood the net better than the other broadcast networks, then they pull this stunt. Good luck charging $5 a pop, $110 for a 22 episode season. I don’t need to shell out $5 for low res versions of your episode through iTunes. I’m guessing many people will now discover they can find episodes for a lot less then $5 elsewhere, commercial free and in HD no less. Nice job NBC.

Friday YouTube Bonus! The Simpson’s Do Star Wars

Because nobody should start an extended weekend with silly news, here’s a parody by animator Rich Cando of the Simpson’s opening done up like Star Wars

[via SciFi Scanner and Viral Video Chart]

SFWA Misuses DMCA?

At Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow notes that the Science fiction Writers of America, whose leaders have long taken an anti-piracy stance on behalf of its members, is misusing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to have content removed from Scribd (the text version of Flickr). The list of “offending” works appears to have resulted from a blanket search of “Asimov” and “Silverberg”.

Sez Doctorow:

This implies that Robert Silverberg and the Asimov estate have asked SFWA to police their copyrights for them, but it’s important to note that many of the other authors whose work was listed in the August 17 email did not nominate SFWA to represent them. Indeed, I have told Vice President Burt on multiple occasions that he may not represent me as a rightsholder in negotiations with Amazon, and other electronic publishing venues.

More importantly, many of the works that were listed in the takedown were written by the people who’d posted them to Scribd — these people have been maligned and harmed by SFWA, who have accused them of being copyright violators and have caused their material to be taken offline. These people made the mistake of talking about and promoting science fiction — by compiling a bibliography of good works to turn kids onto science fiction, by writing critical or personal essays that quoted science fiction novels, or by discussing science fiction. SFWA — whose business is to promote science fiction reading — has turned readers into collateral damage in a campaign to make Scribd change its upload procedures.

Doctorow continues…

Continue reading

Friday YouTube: The Last Unicorn

From Robot Chicken

[via Milk and Cookies]

Sci-Fi Villains…The Beacons of Morality

Ward at Mod-Blog takes a thoughtful look at Moral Complexity in Sci-Fi:

It’s always struck me that considering that science fiction is supposed to be morally complex and supposed to point us to our own humanity, it is often times terribly shallow. And no where does this show up more frequently than in the ‘bad guys’ in science fiction. Having a cardboard cutout baddie might be sufficient for a summer action flick. But when it comes to science fiction, it always struck me that the evil characters should really drive a lot of the moral issues. But this hasn’t been the case, by and large. Instead, they are often times virtually just parodies. They are mostly corporate leaders of some massive conglomerate of the future, or alien invaders simply bent on taking over earth, or some other cheap and easy story.

He then goes on to show how the sci-fi has taken a turn for the better and cites villains from Farscape, BSG, Heroes and Flash Gordon. (Ah-Aaaaah!)

Tube Bits For 08/31/07

  • In advance of the premier of Chuck, NBC has created the Chuck’s Secret web site. There you can learn a bit more about the secrets that are accidentally downloaded into Chuck’s brain. I’m looking forward to this one. [via TV Squad]
  • NBC is continuing their use of the web to reach fans. This time they are parterning with News Corp. to create the YouTube rival, Hulu. Can it beat or even rival YouTube? Probably not.
  • Masi Oka recognizes that bittorrenting can be a good thing. I’m not surprised. He is a tech geek after all.
  • Mark Wilson at About.com wonders whether to root for Flash Gordon or delight in its failure. I’d like for it to get better, but I don’t take any pleasure in how bad it is. It’s just seems to be par for the Sci Fi Channel course.
  • More YouTube goodness. This time, feast your eyes upon this trailer for a never produced 1999 show, Daena 1. It appears to be French and, once you get past the horrible acting, the actual setup sounds interesting. At least it has ships, in space, shooting at each other. We need more of that.

SF Tidbits for 8/31/07

Tor Podcasts

As mentioned last week, science fiction publisher Tor is launching a new podcasting program. The program kicks off today with daily coverage of Worldcon.

From today’s Tor newsletter:

Marking the first time that Worldcon has ever taken place in Japan, Tor publisher Tom Doherty and senior editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden will podcast directly from the convention. This international podcasting event will kick off Tor’s new podcasting program, which will continue with regularly scheduled podcasts beginning September 12th.

The daily podcasts from the convention will cover the events there, as well as interviews with notable authors and editors and perhaps a few surprise guests. One exciting podcast episode will feature an interview with Star Trek and Heroes star George Takei, speaking on his life and career. Another podcast will join Tor publisher Tom Doherty and renowned author Larry Niven while they discuss a variety of topics over lunch in Tokyo. These podcasts will be available for download from iTunes, Yahoo, and Google and through RSS–and individuals can also tune in to them directly from the Tor website at www.tor-forge.com/podcasts.

The Current State Of Science Fiction On Tv

Well, it certainly looks like the doom and gloom brigade is out in full force this week. First, Ridley Scott dumps all over SF films, then Michael Cassut sees a poor SF TV landscape in his “The Spirit of the Times” article for SciFi Weekly. Basically. Cassutt uses Jane Espenson’s article for The New Republic as jumping off point to show that SF, as most SF fans know it, is dead on TV, replaced with the whole ‘Chosen One’ angle to storytelling.

In an effort to see if Cassutt has a point, and I think he does, SciFi Fodder reviews the current state of SF on TV, and looks at the new SF-ish shows. And what do you know? They all are a form of Espenson’s thesis. But I think its actually worse than it appears. Out of all the new shows, the only ones that are really SF are: Bionic Woman, Chuck (light), and The Sarah Conner Chronicles. Journeyman is probationary as we don’t know the ‘how’ of his time travel. So, that’s 3 of 28 new shows that I would consider to be SF. Not good. And they all are a variation of the Chosen one theme.

Looking at returning shows, I count 5 shows that are SF: Galactica, Eureka, LOST, Heroes and Jericho. You could argue that Eureka follows Espenson’s idea, but the others clearly don’t. The thing I notice right away is that the overtly SF shows, Galactica and Eureka are on SciFi, not broadcast TV. And the other three are ensemble shows that have SF elements to their stories. Two are big hits, while the other is on life support for 7 episodes.

Looking at the recent past, we see that Invasion, Threshold and Surface never made it past a first season. All were ensembles, and all were present day alien invasion stories. You could argue that with three similarly themed shows, they were doomed to failure. I’m not sure American audiences are ready for a real SF alien invasion story. Clearly they aren’t ready for the watered down ones they got.

I think that SF on TV isn’t in as a bad a shape as Cassutt thinks, especially considering LOST and Heroes. But going forward, it looks like the prevailing feeling in TV land is Espenson’s idea. Will there ever be another overtly SF hit show like Star Trek on mainstream TV? I don’t know, but my guess would be no. The place you’ll find it will possibly on cable, but more likely on the Internet. But until then, I’ll keep recording and watching the SF shows I like, hoping to see more SF.

Are Sci-Fi Films are as Dead as Westerns?

Ridley Scott, famed director of not one, but two certifiable sci-fi hits (Alien and Blade Runner) said at the Venice Film Festival that science fiction films are riding off into the sunset:

“There’s nothing original. We’ve seen it all before. Been there. Done it,” he said. Asked to pick out examples, he said: “All of them. Yes, all of them.”

Strong words coming from the man who directed the most popular sci-fi film of all time. (Sigh.) He also says that no film can surpass Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Talking about Blade Runner, which sees life again on DVD as a “Final Cut” 25 years after its original release, Scott says there were “too many cooks in the kitchen.”

I put the question to our readers: Are sci-fi films dead?

Thursday YouTube: Star Wars Theme – The BagPipes Version

Love the mask. As if the bagpipes weren’t enough…

[via Cynical-C]

Tube Bits For 08/30/07

  • From AfterElton.com [via SyFy Portal], we get some serious Torchwood spoilage. Remember that Torchwood starts on BBC America and INHD starting next month.
  • Squid News has list of reasons why Halo would make a great TV series (I know Tim is all over this). I think I have to agree here. Halo has a nice big space opera storyline that I’d love to see on the small screen. I like this idea. Especially if they do Red vs. Blue.
  • TV anthology series, like Masters Of Science Fiction, aren’t just for the US. Dark City is a Malaysian TV show that blends horror, fantasy and science fiction. Each 30 minute episode will end with a twist. Of course! [via Julia Ziegler]
  • Dan Iverson, IGN TV editor, apologizes for ignorantly dismissing Eureka without watching it first. He then reviews the Season 1 DVD set and gives it an 8/10. This set actually sounds rather good.
  • Masi Oka has been making the rounds in the Far East. First up, Masi says that LOST helped pave the way for Asian characters on American TV. And lastly, Masi appeared on a couple of Japanese shows to talk Heroes. Since your dying to see the video, you can see them below. Watch them with your Japanese speaking friend if you want to know what they are saying…

SF Tidbits for 8/30/07

Caption Challenge #4: John ScaLOLzi Edition

In my attempt to both show my true fanboy nature and still maintain a healthy sense of humor, I have taken it to task to find images across the web and then give readers a chance to offer up little quotes that would be appropriate for the image. In this case, I have been given a picture of a younger (and much more hairy) John Scalzi. I really enjoyed the books he has written up to this point, and he has a pretty good sense of humor (bacon cat anyone?). So with that, he becomes the target of the newest caption challenge.

The quote below the image is our weak attempt at LOLcat-speak. I know I am such a geek.

Luke Skywalker’s Lightsaber in Earth Orbit

Quick! How can you tell when a science fiction movie is truly influential?

Is the amount of money it takes in? How about its longevity at the theater? Or maybe the number of prestigious awards it receives? Well, if you guessed those, you’d be wrong. Just ask George Lucas.

Somewhere in the plush acreage of Skywalker Ranch, Lucas is sitting back, smokin’ a stogie, and tracking the progress of Luke Sywalker’s original lightsaber movie prop on its way into space.

Yesterday, the original lightsaber used by Mark Hamill in 1977’s Star Wars landed in Houston after much fanfare surrounding its California send-off. The famed prop is scheduled to be on display through Labor Day at the Johnson Space Center before its round-trip journey to a galaxy far, far away. Or an international space station, whichever is closer.

In Houston, the lightsaber was escorted by a flank of Storm Troopers to a waiting convoy of land vehicles where it was whisked away to the Space Center. There it awaits its berth on the space shuttle Discovery whose mission is scheduled for October. The Jedi weapon is being flown to the space station in honor of the film’s 30th anniversary.

There is still no word as to whether Jar Jar Binks will also make the journey and be “accidentally” left behind.

[via Club Jade]

Tube Bits For 08/29/07

  • MovieWeb takes a look at the latest Star Trek: Fan Collective DVD set. This one entitled Captain’s Log and features various Trek episodes featuring the various captains of the series.
  • Jon Turtletaub, show runner for Jericho has inked a deal with CBS to stay on with the network. You decide if its warranted or not.
  • Galactica fans will be given the opportunity to vote on the packaging for the DVD release of Razor. Voting has already started on the official site. It’s a toss up for me between A and B.
  • Maybe that last tube bit will keep fans occupied long enough for them to miss the news that, contrary to previous reports, Kevin Smith will not be directing an episode of BSG because of “scheduling conflicts”. [via SyFy Portal]

TOC and Website: Wastelands

Über-editor John Joseph Adams has created a website for his upcoming post-apocalyptic science fiction anthology, Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse.

Besides profiling the authors who contributed to the anthology, the website also includes story excerpts. And check out this lineup:

  1. “The End of the Whole Mess” by Stephen King
  2. “Salvage” by Orson Scott Card
  3. “The People of Sand and Slag” by Paolo Bacigalupi
  4. “Bread and Bombs” by M. Rickert
  5. “How We Got In Town and Out Again” by Jonathan Lethem
  6. “Dark, Dark Were the Tunnels” by George R. R. Martin
  7. “Waiting for the Zephyr” by Tobias S. Buckell
  8. “Never Despair” by Jack McDevitt
  9. “When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth” by Cory Doctorow
  10. “The Last of the O-Forms” by James Van Pelt
  11. “Still Life With Apocalypse” by Richard Kadrey
  12. “Artie’s Angels” by Catherine Wells
  13. “Judgment Passed” by Jerry Oltion
  14. “Mute” by Gene Wolfe
  15. “Inertia” by Nancy Kress
  16. “And the Deep Blue Sea” by Elizabeth Bear
  17. “Speech Sounds” by Octavia E. Butler
  18. “Killers” by Carol Emshwiller
  19. “Ginny Sweethips’ Flying Circus” by Neal Barrett, Jr.
  20. “The End of the World as We Know It” by Dale Bailey
  21. “A Song Before Sunset” by David Grigg
  22. “Episode Seven: Last Stand Against the Pack in the Kingdom of the Purple Flowers” by John Langan

The book also has an Introduction and an Appendix for further reading.

SF Tidbits for 8/29/07

  • Amazon blog interviews Matt Ruff, author of Bad Monkeys. (Also: Matt Ruff has been added to the list of sf/f authors who blog.)
  • Here’s a video of Terry Brooks talking about The Elves of Cintra, second book in the Genesis of Shannara trilogy. There’s also a written interview.
  • At SciFi Wire, John Joseph Adams profiles Margo Lanagan, author of Red Spikes.
  • From The Globe and Mail: China loves Robert J. Sawyer, author of Rollback.
  • SFF World interviews Scott Lynch, author of Red Seas under Red Skies. “I like to have it both ways — beauty and grandeur and mystery piled on top of a grounded sense of the muck and hardships of actual life, especially in this sort of archaic age.”
  • As per Publisher’s Weekly, science fiction author/editor Charles N. Brown (co-founder and editor of Locus magazine) won a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 23rd L. Ron Hubbard Achievement Awards. [via Jonathan Strahan]
  • Matt Cheney rounds up all the linkity goodness to be had on Christopher Barzak Day.
  • Wyrdsmiths looks at Why Books Fail.
  • Blue Moon Rising points us to the fantastic (and amusing) artwork of Michael Dashow.
  • Science fiction writer and environmental consultant Nina Munteanu looks at the possible dystopian outcomes regarding the unethical use of AI in her post Cyborgs & Evolution.
  • Elvis has left the filming… Bruce Campbell will not be part of Bubba Nosferatu, sequel to Bubba Ho-Tep.

The Steampunk Internet

Take a trip back to the turn of the century, the 20th century, Y1.9K. What would the Internet be like, if it existed? Literally a series of tubes most likely. What would the video memes be like? Well, you can find out below. The intro starts out a bit slow, but then things pick up.

[Via Brass Goggles]

Elric: The Stealer of Souls Cover Art

John Picacio has just posted the cover art for the upcoming book Elric: The Stealer of Souls by Michael Moorcock. Here’s the large version.

Man, this looks sweet. I think Picacio has the cover art for the sequel to his awesome book, Cover Story.

I haven’t read the Elric books, but I’ve always wanted to. I’ve been picking up the White Wolf trade paperback editions when I see them at the used bookstore. They look good on a shelf, at least.

What’s your take on the Elric series? Is it a worthwhile read?

Do you have a recommended reading order, either by publishing date or by the story chronology? Or is there a better introductory point?

I’m a casual fantasy fan at best…is this series only for true hardcore fantasy fans?