Friends abandon Facebook; NYT writer sounds death knell

Posted in Facebook, journalism trends, NYT, Twitter by Diane on August 31, 2009

facebookGlad to see I’m not alone in my scorn for Virginia Heffernan’s Sunday NYT mag story about Facebook quitters. Heffernan took very slim evidence indeed — a handful of friends have soured on the social media site — to suggest it is doomed like a college clique. Of course, the numbers don’t really back that up, as she herself acknowledges in a paragraph that encapsulates all that is wrong with this column:

The exodus is not evident from the site’s overall numbers. According to comScore, Facebook attracted 87.7 million unique visitors in the United States in July. But while people are still joining Facebook and compulsively visiting the site, a small but noticeable group are fleeing — some of them ostentatiously.

The most shocking thing about this flimsy story is that it actually made it past editors. Yes, The Medium is a column, and yes it’s the dog days of summer, when many editorial minders on vacation, but the NYT should know better. The NY Observer rightly spanks the paper for the story.

Trend writers guilty of same narcissism they deplore…


‘A Gate at the Stairs’ is good, but is it great?

Posted in book reviews, books, Newsweek, NYT by Diane on August 29, 2009

gateatstairsOh how I love it when the New York Times serves up decidedly different takes on the same book in its daily and weekly pages. Michiko Kakutani delivered a tough but largely positive review of Lorrie Moore’s “A Gate at the Stairs” in Friday’s paper, whereas Jonathan Lethem out and out raves about it in the paper’s Sunday book review section, suggesting that doubters ought to have their head examined.

So which is it? I have an even more mixed take on the book. There was much to love in “A Gate at the Stairs” — narrator Tassie Keltjin is affecting, as is her quirky family — but its weaknesses bugged me long after I finished reading. The plot, tied to fallout from 9/11, begs credulity. And I generally find it annoying when authors withhold key plot information under the guise of character obliviousness or diffidence, as was the case here. Killer closing lines couldn’t quite make up for those deficiencies.

Kakutani notes Moore’s clumsy job orchestrating certain revelations and an unfortunate tendency toward wordplay, but forgives those weaknesses, judging “A Gate at the Stairs” the author’s best book yet.

“If Ms. Moore, who started out as a short-story writer, demonstrates some difficulty here in steering the big plot machinery of a novel, she is able to compensate for this by thoroughly immersing the reader in her characters’ daily existences,” Kakutani writes.


Zombie filmmakers: Make it stop!

Posted in movies by Diane on August 28, 2009

Look at what you did

Look at what you did

How many zombie movies do we really need? I realize I’m not the target audience, but I burst out laughing when one zombie trailer after another played in front of “District 9” the other day. There’s seemingly no end it to, as the production of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” attests.

No big fan of alien movies either, but did enjoy “District 9” far more than I ever thought I would. Credit director Neill Blomkamp, who is reportedly working on a prequel or sequel, for his light comedic touch and faux documentary style.


Jane Campion, master sensualist

Posted in movies by Diane on August 28, 2009

brightstarIt’s been a while since Jane Campion’s last movie, so I’d almost forgotten what a stunning visual stylist she is. All that rushed back when I saw “Bright Star” last night. From the moment Abbie Cornish strode across the English countryside in her bright red getup, topped by an extravagant chapeau, I knew we were in for a visual treat. The movie is very painterly, with beautiful shot after beautiful shot. But that’s not the only way “Bright Star” appeals to the senses: the movie also served up aural delights, playing off the stillness and repressed desires with ambient noise. Rarely have rustling reeds been so evocative.

The director, who wrote the screenplay, even has John Keats, one of the two doomed lovers, explain the importance of immersing in senses and feeling when reading poetry, as opposed to spending too much time trying to figure them out. This when Cornish’s Fanny Brawne comes to him for poetry lessons and flirtation.

Campion gave her last movie, “In the Cut,” a more lurid look and feel, which matched the story. “Bright Star,” which received strong reviews at Cannes, harkens back to Campion’s “The Piano,” in its period story of repressed longing. I’m just glad she made another movie.

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If they wish hard enough, maybe families WILL watch movies on PS3

Posted in Blu-ray, rentals by Diane on August 26, 2009

ps3consoleSo Sony believes that if they just try a little harder to market PS3 to moms and families, they will sell more Blu-ray discs. Color me skeptical.

Sony has been trying to get that movie market from the start, but the massive sales predicted by studio Blu-ray proponents never came. You know what PS3 owners like to do on their consoles? Play games.

Still, can’t blame Sony for trying to make the most of its price reduction. According to the LAT, the Japanese consumer electronics giant plans to remarket its console as an all-in-one entertainment device. The company gave Ben Fritz a sneak peek at its campaign, which will play up users ability to play games and watch movies on disc or via download. An exec told him research “confirmed there is a larger  proposition under our nose,” confidently adding, “we feel like we can really own entertainment.”

More technology than consumers need?

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Ted Kennedy, Internet pioneer

Posted in digital media by Diane on August 26, 2009

kennedysiteWho would you have guessed was the first Congressman to have a website? Al Gore, right? Nope, it was actually fellow Harvard alum, and decidedly old school pol Teddy Kennedy. This is my favorite factoid yet to surface in the wake of Kennedy’s death late last night.

Chris Casey, Kennedy’s system administrator in the early ’90s, explains the backstory on Matthew Yglesias’s site.  Apparently, I am not the only one to marvel at this ancient web artifact. The grayscale background! Early Netscape browser! BBS systems and ftp! Check out the comments if you, too, remember those days.

Casey wrote a book about the efforts to get Congress online, “The Hill on the Net: Congress Enters the Information Age”; he uploaded this 1994 screen grab to Flickr a few years ago.

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It’s a test: Redbox signs rev-share deal with Par

Posted in Paramount, Redbox by Diane on August 25, 2009

Sheesh, it’s getting hard to keep up with all the Redbox developments lately. Home Media now reports that Redbox has signed a short term rev-share deal with Paramount. Remember that the various studio lawsuits grew out of their inability to come to terms with Redbox over rev-share.

Ben Fritz has even more details at the LAT’s Company Town blog; he  notes that at the end of the year, Par can trigger a 5-year deal estimated at $575 million. Read the stories in LAT and Home Media


Can kiosks be stopped? Studios fighting popular choice

Posted in DVD, Netflix, Redbox, rentals by Diane on August 25, 2009

More good news/bad news depending which side of the Redbox fence you’re sitting on: Research outfit NPD Group projects that rental kiosks will command 30% of the market next year, a 58% increase over its share as of midyear 2009. As of midyear, kiosk commanded 19% market share compared to 45% for trad videostores including Blockbuster and 36% for subscription services such as Netflix.

Where will this projected gain come from? NPD doesn’t say but trad videostores would seem most vulnerable. “Consumers are obviously responding positively to the perceived value of $1 per day rentals, and they appreciate the convenience offered by video rental kiosks,” analyst Russ Crupnick noted.

Video Business outlines the diverging fortunes of Redbox and Blockbuster here. NPD release after the jump

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TOH! thoughts

Posted in DVD, Redbox, rentals by Diane on August 24, 2009

redboxWrote a few words about the growing studio battle against Redbox for Thompson on Hollywood, riffing on the notion that Redbox is a disruptive innovation. Who’d a thunk that DVD rental kiosks would become so popular? Not me. (Or, for that matter, Mark Cuban.) Read my post


Wishful thinking

Posted in MGM, Redbox, rentals by Diane on August 24, 2009

mgmlogoWhen the consortium bought MGM from Kirk Kerkorian five years ago for major bucks, they argued the Lion was worth every penny due to its enviable library. Never mind that MGM’s previous owners had mined it over and over again on DVD. Harry Sloan, ousted this week, maintained the library qualified MGM as a major studio in Variety coverage. Never mind that the studio hadn’t released much for years. Several years later, that hasn’t changed, although Mary Parent, one of the troika that will run the studio now that Sloan’s been forced to the sidelines, has been doing her darnedest to get a slate into motion. “I believe we’re going to get through this,” she told the LAT.

ps3consoleThe same day, Sony finally lowered the price of the PlayStation 3 console in hopes of goosing sales of that platform and maybe even Blu-ray discs. From the beginning, Sony and other Blu-ray backers have talked up the console as a game changer for home entertainment, and some in the media credulously passed along that projection. You know what? Hasn’t happened. Just as PlayStation 2 didn’t really boost DVD sales, PlayStation 3 hasn’t really goosed Blu-ray sales. Hope springs eternal, however. “Many in Hollywood have been eagerly awaiting a PS3 price cut in hopes it would boost sales of high definition Blu-ray discs at a time when the overall DVD market is contracting,” the LAT reported in a story that adjoined the MGM reorg jump in the print version. A Sony exec suggested that the price cut would be enough to entice recession battered consumers off the fence.

I wouldn’t count on it boosting Blu-ray sales. Consumers have found a better way to vote with their pocketbooks in this recession — $1 DVD rentals at Redbox kiosks. Hard to argue with that consumer logic.

As for MGM? Per LAT’s Claudia Eller, most industry watchers don’t expect it to last much longer as an independent studio.