Dan Barrett

Dan Barrett is the Content Director of Televised Revolution. His musings on television have been heard across ABC Radio, on websites like The Guardian and Crikey, and drunkenly in pubs across the country. At night he spends too many hours watching repeats of Cheers.

[PODCAST] Televised Revolution – The Death of The US Sitcom? (Ep 373)

Are we facing a US sitcom ‘recession’? Is the US sitcom on deaths door? This week saw Joe Adalian publish an essay on Vulture suggesting that the days of the US sitcom are at an end. Is that actually the case though? And even if it is the case, is it such a big deal?

This week on Televised Revolution the panel of Dan Barrett, Simon Band, and Dennis Dugandzic discuss whether there is a sitcom problem, while also examining the TV news of the week. Stories include:

  • Was Sony Pictures the victim of a hack from North Korea?
  • Two & A Half Men given an end date.
  • Parks & Recreations final season is scheduled. Is NBC burning the series off?
  • GTA V dumped from Target and K-Mart stores.
  • Stan adds CBS and BBC titles.
  • TV is coming to Presto.
  • The bid to buy the Ten Network intensifies. Kind of. Sort of. Not really.

At Televised Revolution, we look forward to receiving your mail and check us out on the Twitter. You can also find the podcast on iTunes (please leave us a review, it helps people find the show).

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Netflix Is Not Presto’s Biggest Problem. Without HD It is A Non-Starter.

Netflix is not the biggest problem Foxtel and Seven have in launching a joint subscription video on demand service. The biggest hurdle they have is battling piracy. People want to access the content they want to watch legitimately, so any content provider needs to offer content in a way that makes the experience as good as or better than the piracy experience. Netflix are successful as they do this.

But Presto?

This is a service that provides their content in standard definition only and is available across a very limited number of platforms (currently on iOS,  Android, Web, and Chromecast – no connected devices like PS4/XBOX/Apple TV). Netflix, however, offers an adaptive resolution that can offer quality from standard definition up to 4k.

Today, Foxtel and Seven have officially announced that they are teaming up to provide TV content onto Presto. With the announcement, they made no mention as to which TV shows one should expect to find on the service, but it’s safe to assume that it will include some locally produced Seven productions, some imported content that’s currently getting a play on their digital TV multichannels 7Two and 7Mate, and a series currently running on Foxtel owned and operated channels. It’s likely that this will include some HBO content that includes Game of Thrones – expected to be a major driver of subscriptions.

While TV content is much-needed on the platform, the technical limitations of Presto are going to be a major stumbling block when it comes to subscriber retention.

Seven and Foxtel have a great opportunity to promote and re-launch Presto during the Australian Open in January. Like Seven’s TV check-in app Fango which launched during the Australian Open in a similar way, it may well launch big, but if users are disappointed by the experience, they’ll quickly reject it. As soon as subscribers find it difficult to watch the content on their tv, or experience low resolution images on their screen, negative word of mouth will be a significant problem. Viewers have big screen TV’s and home theatre systems. They want to get the most out of it.

If operating in a silo, the limitations on Presto wouldn’t be a significant problem. But against Netflix? Against Stan? Both of these services will be available in HD and on multiple platforms.

Presto2Possibly the biggest problem that Foxtel will face is that they have trouble adjusting their belief that they’re not operating in a silo. For the past two decades the company has operated as a near-monopoly in Australia, controlling the market heavily. In competing against the likes of Netflix and any other online streaming competitors, Foxtel need to compete with the organisations head on. But they’ve been reluctant to upset their traditional cable business. Online, digital products have been crippled with less content and with technological limitations. Streaming services on connected TV’s have been cut-down versions of Foxtel’s linear channel services, while Presto launched with no TV content, no way to be watched on a TV set, and in lousy SD. Foxtel have been unable to shake the attitude that they are the only viable service in town.

“I wonder when people see and experience the Australian Netflix service whether some of that brand halo may actually drop a bit,” he says. “It will not be the same as the US service. You can’t compare it to a service like Foxtel, for example, which has sport, a lot more fresh programming, and so I think we obviously have to be very competitive but we’re very optimistic about Presto”

– Richard Freudenstein, Foxtel CEO

The reality is that Netflix aren’t competing with Foxtel. They’re providing two different services. Netflix chases niche and personal taste, while Foxtel are a much larger content umbrella. Big name content may help to drive subscription numbers, but for Netflix retention will rest with whether subscribers feel they’re getting value from the $9.95 per month that they spend. For many viewers, if they feel they’ve gotten value marathoning decade-old 8-seasons worth of the TV show ’24’, then that is enough to establish value. When one operates at a price point as low as Netflix, the value proposition differs wildly from the expensive Foxtel service.

Presto’s biggest battle in the coming months is not with Netflix, but with their own practices. Presto needs HD. Presto needs to be available on multiple platforms that are actually able to be viewed on a TV set. Without these functions, Presto is not competing with Netflix or Stan. They’re also proving value over piracy.

Marco Polo, The Librarians, and More – The Watchlist 07 December 2014

There’s a lot of great TV coming our way in the coming weeks. Until then, we have these new series.

The Librarians
Airs: 07 December 2014 (TNT – US)
A TV series spin-off of the Noah Wyle-starring TV movies, this has a team of librarians teaming up to discover lost and forgotten treasures. The series will star John Larroquette, Rebecca Romijn, Christian Kane, and John Kim, along with very occasional appearances by Noah Wyle. It looks sort of fun, but very disposable.

Lost Girl
Airs: 07 December 204 (Showcase – US)
This Canadian series about a bisexual succubus named Bo enters its fifth season. The show has its fans.

Marco Polo 
Airs: 12 December 2014 (Netflix – Global)
Netflix will be launching this series in every territory it has a legitimate presence in on the same day. Advance buzz is that the series is fine, but hasn’t particularly impressed many critics. Fans of nudity and violence are reportedly well catered for by the series.

Brian Pern: A Life In Rock
Airs: 12 December 2014 (BBC2 – US)
A Spinal Tap-esque series, Brian Pern is about a former prog rock artist modelled on Peter Gabriel.

[Review] Mozart In The Jungle: Pilot

“It’s easier with the lips slightly wet”.

The opening line in Mozart In The Jungle does a lot to establish the general tone of the show. Offering the perfect mix of sex, drugs, and classical music, the show manages to be a little pervy, without being lewd – the perfect tone to strike in a series that has the New York Symphony established as its backdrop.

Mozart In The Jungle is the new Amazon original series based on a semi-autobiographical book by Blair Tindall. This pilot episode establishes four main characters. The lead is Hailey (Lola Kirke, sister of Girls actress Jemima Kirk), the ingénue who works by day as a music tutor and by night playing in the orchestra of a Styx tribute show on Broadway. Serving as a Blair Tindall proxy is Saffron Burrows as Cynthia, a Symphony player who moonlights in other orchestras on Broadway – which is where she meets Hailey for the first time. Malcolm McDowell is Thomas, the bitter and ageing orchestra conductor who has just been pushed aside for Rodrigo (Gael Garcia Bernal) – a hot and younger conductor who is eager to deliver new life into the Symphony.

As the pilot episode ends, Rodrigo has just been wowed by an audition of sorts by Hailey, setting up a potential sexual relationship that will no doubt place her in a combative relationship with Cynthia who has been carrying on a secret sexual relationship with Thomas.

The pilot is directed by Paul Weitz, with a script written by show creators Jason Schwartzman, Roman Coppola, and Alex Timbers. So much of the tone of the show is reminiscent of Schwartzman’s previous TV series Bored To Death, but while that show always felt at a distance from its audience (keeping them at bay through a pot haze), this show feels far more present and connected. Fans of Canadian series Slings & Arrow will find many similarities between the two series, though this certainly is far more contemporary.

So much of this pilot episode works very well firmly establishing the world of Mozart In The Jungle and it gives its very appealing cast several opportunities each to shine. Quite the feat considering each episode is just a half hour long. The only aspect that doesn’t quite sit right with the overall tone of the show is the Rodrigo character who comes across highly cartoonish in this world of otherwise grounded characters. While the series isn’t afraid to revel in hyper silly-ness (a booze-fuelled, shot driven wind instrument face-off at a party of musicians is a lot of fun to watch, as is the development of Haileys housemates latest invention – a metronome weed delivery system), Rodrigo operates at an entirely different level to the rest of the series.

mozart in the jungleThe danger of Mozart In The Jungle as it goes to series is that the show will seek to bring the characters into Rodrigo’s world and not have him operate at a more grounded level.

It is unlikely that Mozart In The Jungle will generate much buzz from viewers or critics, but for those that do find the show to their taste, it has a lot to offer.

The series launches on Amazon Instant Video in the US on December 23rd.

EzyFlix Set To Deliver Cheaper Prices For Digital Movie Downloads

This week the 1966 Batman TV series was released on DVD, Bluray, and digital download. The 18 disc DVD entire series set can be bought at retailer JB Hifi for $92 – less if you make use of their current 20% off all DVD’s/BD’s sale.  Meanwhile, to buy the same TV show via direct digital download via iTunes, the cost is $29.99 per season (standard definition). That is $119.96 altogether. Google Play have seasons slightly cheaper at $26.99 per season ($107.96 altogether).

In summary, it can cost close to $28 more to buy the digital copy, compared to buying a physical copy.

This is not an isolated price discrepancy. Routinely the cost of movies delivered online cost more than one finds in stores. While they more often than not match the cost of the recommended retail price, the discounting that happens in retail stores is rarely replicated via online stores.

Televised Revolution was understandably intrigued by news today that digital film retailer EzyFlix have announced a reduction in the price of core titles leading up to Christmas. EzyFlix will match the US price ($16.99) for new release movies including Guardians of the Galaxy, Transformers Age of Extinction, Mrs. Browns Boys D’Movie, The Inbetweeners 2 and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

dawn-planet-apesWhile cynics may suggest (and Televised Revolution would never…) that this Christmas promotion is an effort to keep EzyFlix and digital purchase of films in the minds of consumers leading into a very tough Christmas period in which they’ll be combatting not only the strong Google and Apple online stores (especially with the millions of dollars that will be given in the form of gift cards for Christmas), but also the launch of digital subscription services like the expected-to-launch-soon Stan. The threat of all-you-can-eat services like Netflix, Stan, and Presto is considerable to smaller operators like EzyFlix.

EzyFlix CEO Craig White has taken the stance that the pricing changes leading into Christmas is about consumer advocacy. Talking to Televised Revolution, White says “The significance here is that never before has a ‘local’ digital retailer, be it Australian (EzyFlix.tv) or Foreign (iTunes / Google Play)  challenged the disparate pricing that Australian’s pay relative to US consumers. Our Holiday pricing strategy shows appropriate leadership and is designed to illicit a positive response from Consumers”.

“We hope and expect Studios to pay attention to the increased consumer interest and respond with a mind set shift in the wholesale pricing given to digital service providers in Australia”.
“Foreign retailers operating services in Australia (iTunes and Google) have turned a blind eye to the consumer value proposition of feature films  for Australian’s relative to movie lovers in the USA. EzyFlix.tv will do it’s upmost  to change that”.

While there is certainly an element of puffery to the announcement, it is great to see price movement within this space. It’ll be digital price competition that will keep smaller players like Ezyflix viable against the much bigger global players who control a near duopoly over movie/TV retail.

Televised Revolution wants to hear from its readers on this subject. Are the cheaper prices enough to curry your favour and convince you to buy through EzyFlix? How interested are you in buying movies digitally nowadays in this age of Netflix-like services? Has the higher cost of purchasing TV/movies online held you back from buying much for your home video library?

What Does Darkness at Noon Tell Us About ‘The Good Wife’?

Since last season The Good Wife has been making quiet reference to a fictional TV series ‘Darkness at Noon’. In the world of The Good Wife, Darkness At Noon is a Breaking Bad-like success series which is wildly popular. Introduced late last season, viewers and critics simply noted what the series was parodying and that the name Darkness at Noon seemed to be a reference to the Breaking Bad-inspired AMC dud follow-up Low Winter Sun.

But…what if the reference goes deeper than that?

Could it possibly be a reference to Arthur Koestler’s 1940 novel Darkness At Noon? A book that offers more than a few passing similarities to this current season of The Good Wife.

Darkness-At-NoonThe novel Darkness At Noon is about Rubashov, an Old Bolshevik who, in the middle of the night,  is arrested, imprisoned, and tried for treason against the government which he had helped to create. This description sounds familiar with The Good Wife’s Cary Agos. Fresh from the split with his prior law firm (it’s a bit of a reach to consider law firms socialist, but it may be best to consider it more as a loose interpretation), Agos finds himself arrested in the middle of the night, imprisoned, and tried for (false) drug charges by the states department – a department he was once a leading voice within.

One of the major themes of Darkness At Noon regards the passing of the older, civilised generation, and the barbarism of their successors. This, too, has been a very dominant theme of The Good Wife. While not strictly in terms of the breakaway law firm, but rather from the beginning the show has revelled in the conflict that has existed between the better-intentioned name partners at the law firm and many of the partners they later brought in to build the stature of the firm.

None of this, however, has any direct impact on the series protagonist Alicia Florrick. She’s always maintained a civilised relationship with the Lockhart Gardner name partners, while her now-partner Cary Argos is fulfilling the Rubashov role in the show. Florrick is a mere spectator to the rest of the drama taking place in the show. Busy leading her own life, removed from the rest of the action taking place in the series, Florrick remains at a distance. Watching the drama series unfold on her television set.

PODCAST: Televised Revolution – Mid-Season Finale Nonsense (Ep 372)

When is a season finale not really a season finale? The Walking Dead this week airs its fifth season mid-season finale. But, really, isn’t this a season finale? The panel discuss this oh-so-weighty issue.

The panel of Dan and Simon also discuss:

  • ABC iView launches an arts channel
  • Word solidifies that Seven are set to join Presto
  • Former Qld Premier Peter Beattie joins Sky News
  • Netflix say broadcast TV will be dead by 2030. But…will it?
  • No incentive for the ABC SBS transmission cuts
  • Paul Mallam quits the Ten board
  • SBS set to launch cloud-based play-out
  • Seven win the ratings, but Nine win the demos – 2014 by the numbers

At Televised Revolution, we look forward to receiving your mail and check us out on the Twitter. You can also find the podcast on iTunes (please leave us a review, it helps people find the show).

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The Mentalist, Girlfriend’s Guide To Divorce – The Watchlist 30 November 2014

More tumbleweeds this week, but it is just a temporary lull with a few shows launching for the Christmas quiet period starting next week.

I’m not entirely convinced myself, but I do make a good argument for not dismissing the new series Girlfriend’s Guide To Divorce.

The Mentalist
Airs: 30 November 2014 (CBS – US)
This episode marks the start of the seventh and final season of the show. Executive Producer Bruno Hellar has declared that these final 13 episodes will serve as an encore to the series with the Red John storyline reaching its conclusion in season 6.

Girlfriend’s Guide To Divorce
Airs: 02 December 2014 (Bravo – US)
Let’s first establish that based on the blurb for the show, this sounds horrible:

Based on the best-selling “Girlfriends’ Guide” book series by Vicki Iovine, the series follows Abby, a self-help book author who hides the fact that she’s separated from her husband, as she starts to navigate her life as a single woman in her early 40s in Los Angeles. She finds herself seeking advice from her divorced friends, instead of her married ones which leads to some unexpected and life-changing experiences.

But, there are a few things going for it:

  • Long-time TV actor Lisa Edelstein makes her debut as a series lead in the show. Everyone has at least one favourite show that has had Edelstein appear in it and she is always great. How it has taken this long for her to star is baffling. You’ve seen her in shows like Seinfeld, Mad About You, LA Law, The Larry Sanders Show, Ned & Stacey, ER, Relativity, Frasier, Sports Night, The West Wing, Relativity, Ally McBeal, Felicity, The Practice, The Good Wife, House of Lies, Castle, and (of course) House.
  • The show was developed for TV by Marti Noxon. Noxon was a lead voice on Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and has since gone on to be heavily involved with series including Angel, Private Practice, Glee, and Mad Men.
  • Hollywood Reporter critic Tim Goodman has given this show a rave, which is noteworthy as this really is not the sort of show he goes for. And Goodman’s taste is usually quite good.

PODCAST: Marc Fennell [Televised Revolution: The Couch]

Dan sits down with Marc Fennell, host of the SBS2 program The Feed to talk about his work on the show, how he juggles it with his other commitments reviewing movies for Triple J and hosting RN’s Download This Show.

The conversation never stays on track, as the two diverge to talk about the need for a movie show (either on the ABC or SBS), his experience hosting the old SBS Movie Show, and his upcoming gig hosting 2014’s Tropfest.

Tropfest airs on Dec 7th on SBS2.

At Televised Revolution, we look forward to receiving your mail and check us out on the Twitter. You can also find the podcast on iTunes (please leave us a review, it helps people find the show).

 

Arts HD Further Strengthens Foxtel’s Bid For 55+

Foxtel have officially announced the launch of their new arts channel Arts HD, set to replace their current arts channel, the SBS operated Studio, in early 2015. The new service will further Foxtel’s efforts to launch more owned and operated channels onto the service, while considerably strengthening the content on offer for their 55+ aged subscribers.

When Foxtel replaced arts channel Ovation with Studio in 2010, it sought a service that would focus more on younger viewers, with a greater male skew. Prior to being dumped, Ovation was routinely mocked for its reliance on the then-very popular Andre Rieu concerts. While Ovation continues operating, selling the station strictly as an IPTV service delivered via an iOS/Android app and through selected smart TV’s, it is with considerable amusement that Foxtel is again targeting the same viewers that Ovation were dumped for appealing to.

As per the Foxtel media release:

The channel will feature the world’s most renowned orchestras, ensembles and companies and highlight the finest performing artists from the greatest opera houses, concert halls and festival stages including Daniel Barenboim, Renee Fleming, Herbert Von Karajan and Anne Sophie Mutter as well as the popular favourite, Andre Rieu.

The decision to refocus their arts channel is another very clear indication that Foxtel are readjusting their efforts on appealing to 55+ aged subscribers. Many were surprised to see that Foxtel had picked up the recently cancelled Seven Network series A Place To Call Home. Seven had initially dumped the series for attracting an audience that were primarily 55+, so while that may not appeal much to a broadcast TV network that relies on advertising dollars generated through selling to 16-55 year-olds, it is perfect for a subscription TV service that is losing its younger audience rapidly to online delivery of TV content.

Arts HD won’t draw in audiences in droves, but it’s a valuable addition to the stable of Foxtel channels that clearly have more traditional viewers in mind.

* * * *

MEDIA RELEASE:

Foxtel ARTS HD to launch in 2015

Foxtel will launch a new high definition channel dedicated to arts and entertainment in early 2015.

The new channel, Foxtel ARTS HD, will showcase the full breadth of artistic forms including the world’s finest opera and ballet productions, theatre, dance, cabaret, classical and contemporary performance as well as informative documentary specials and series from the diverse world of cinema, literature, music, visual art, artists and the history of ideas and techniques from which art is created.

Foxtel Executive Director of Television, Brian Walsh, said: ‎”The new Foxtel ARTS HD channel will draw from a rich and varied television palette – from the timeless to the contemporary – to create extraordinary experiences from Australia and around the world for an intelligent and passionate arts and entertainment audience.”

‎”The channel will extend Foxtel’s commitment to fostering and supporting Australia’s creative industries and arts organisations. As a vital part of Australia’s cultural life, Foxtel ARTS HD will feature locally produced magazine shows and specials, festival news and information, in depth interviews and reviews, all in High Definition.

“With Foxtel ARTS HD, we will also participate in and support the broad spectrum of arts communities working in Australia today and invite our subscribers to enjoy an ongoing awareness of Australia’s rich creativity and the inspiring people behind its dynamic artistic expression.‎”

The channel will feature the world’s most renowned orchestras, ensembles and companies and highlight the finest performing artists from the greatest opera houses, concert halls and festival stages including Daniel Barenboim, Renee Fleming, Herbert Von Karajan and Anne Sophie Mutter as well as the popular favourite, Andre Rieu. Foxtel ARTS HD will be the new home to major awards shows including Australia’s annual Helpmann Awards for live performance and Broadway’s coveted Tony Awards.

In its documentary offering, Foxtel ARTS HD will discuss, dissect and deliberate a wide variety of artistic endeavours from the visual arts, literature, all forms of theatre as well as the luminaries, traditions and cultural developments that have shaped art and artists and which continue to exert an influence today.

Foxtel ARTS HD will replace the Studio channel in the platform channel line-up.