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The globalisation of trifles

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I have also just watched the latest Sherlock. If you live in the UK, the chances that you watched it as it was first broadcast are approximately one in seven. Despite the fact that this is a simultaneous British television watching event of the first order, the percentage of people who watched it is less than half what it was for peak television events of the 1960s to 1980s. That said, I want a set of those beer glasses. Oh Lord, I want a set of those beer glasses.

If you don’t live in the UK, torrents are appearing right now and you will be able to watch it shortly. If you live in China, you are able to watch it on the legal Youku Tudou streaming service right now. If you want to watch it legally in most other places, you will have to wait a few days to a few weeks. I suspect, though, that most of the people who really want to talk about it will have watched it by this time tomorrow. Versions with strange, semi-accurate hacked on subtitles will be out there any moment now. Then they will talk, and talk, and talk, in various languages and through various translation tools.

Things weren’t always thus. I am a middle aged expatriate Antipodean fogey. Watching film and television while growing up in Australia in the 1970s and 1980s in Australia was a strange thing.  Inevitably, most of the movies we watched came from America, and most of the television we watched in Australia came from America. In America, television seasons start in October, run through the winter months, and then end in about April. The biggest blockbuster movies are released between May and July. In Australia, though, the summer movie season started on December 26, and the television season went from February to September. This means that movies that had been hits in the American summer would often be held over for more than six months, and television seasons that had started in October in the US would not commence showing in Australia until February of the following year.

Even by 1982 this had become tiresome with movies. I remember reading about a movie called “E.T.” that was supposed to be wonderful, and waiting endlessly. (I found it vaguely disappointing. Some of this might have been the wait). Even the existence of VHS was enough to break this down. By the 1990s, Hollywood had found that it was best to open movies as close as possible to simultaneously around the world as possible, both for reasons of piracy prevention, and because of the simple fact that publicity campaigns and other buzz could not be stopped from crossing borders.

Television was a little more odd, though. For one thing, there was less realisation that there was a problem. Television had certain peculiarities – for instance Christmas episodes of foreign series always aired in May – but this was no more peculiar than eating an enormous Christmas dinner of ham and turkey in 40 degree heat, or watching live major sporting events on TV in the middle of the night, as Australian sports fans are known to do on a weekly basis. In any event, local print media – mostly owned by the same companies that owned the television stations – would play ball, and there would be no discussion of new episodes of television series until the television series aired locally.

But of course, modernity (by which I mean the internet) eventually happened. It became trivially easy to watch any programme almost as soon as it was aired. Those people who wanted to talk about television with other people on the internet (in Australia and elsewhere)  found it imperative to watch at the same time, and they did.  And they do. (Okay, I admit it. And we did. And we do). Piracy of music and of first run movies seems to have declined, because the legal options for listening and watching at the same time everywhere are now pretty good.  Piracy of programming from regular series television seems to have gone way up, though. Television networks around the world are getting closer to airing things on the same day, but they are still probably not good enough for people who want to watch the next day, without spoilers. (In Australia, the same old television networks are still rather tilting at windmills to stop piracy, even with the help of a US Ambassador who believes an important part of his job is to discourage Game of Thrones piracy). National television moments have declined, however it feels when watching Sherlock in the UK. Global television moments have grown spectacularly. The industry is yet to catch up by giving global audiences legal ways to achieve these moments.

Except that in China, piracy is feared to such an extent that the purveyors of legal streaming have actually chosen to give viewers what they want when they want.  The rest of the world may follow soon. I hope so.

Also, with Sherlock being such a big hit in the manufacturing capital of the world, I will hopefully be able to order the beer glasses on ebay any moment now.

23 comments to The globalisation of trifles

  • Roue le Jour

    Unless I’m being even thicker than usual, your ‘beer glasses’ can be sourced from any laboratory glassware supplier.

  • Mr Ed

    I second Roue’s observation, having used such devices for 7 years, they are readily available but do get some Nescofilm if you wish to shake cocktails in them.

    I gave up TV about 3 years ago (I am in the UK) and save £145.50 pa on a licence, I also save around £400 on a Sky subscription (the cost of having almost anything worth watching, and it was too high) and I do not miss it. I watch about 1 TV programme a fortnight on catchup services. A stay in a hotel room with a TV leaves me wondering why people pay for what is essentially a centralised producer-led medium. Imagine a library that decides in advance when you can borrow its ‘best’ books and interweaves adverts in the pages (or simply commissions lefty drivel into original ‘content’).

    And I have not watched Sherlock, I can’t help thinking that the lead actor resembles the unextradited alleged hacker Gary McKinnon.

  • Well it’s a good job the beer glasses were liked by some because the rest of the programme was total twaddle!

  • Spruance

    @Mr Ed: Like you I stopped watching TV, but here in Germany there is no way saving on the license. It is now compulsary for every household and company, regardless if you inhale this drivel or not.

  • Mr Ed

    @ Spruance, how awful, schrecklich, at least I have the satisfaction of knowing that my money remains mine. I do find it liberating not watching television, a passive medium, I hope that you find some benefit from not inhaling.

    BTW ‘inhale’ reminds me. Did Clinton ever say that he had drunk alcohol, but he didn’t swallow?

  • Paul Marks

    Enterprises deserve to profit from what they make – if customers like what they make.

    However, that does not mean that television shows should not be “streamed” – on the contrary they should (and increasingly are – Michael is correct) streamed all round the world at once (in an encrypted way if possible so that to see the show on one’s computer one has to pay a fee).

    “Streaming” may also be the answer to a pet irritation of mine – “bundling” by cable and sat companies.

    I have no objection to paying for what I like – but I detest paying for what I do not want.

    Why should I have to accept CNN (and so on) which I do not want – in order to get stations that I do want such as Fox News?

    Streaming should (eventually) deal with this problem.

    And, of course, with the absurd BBC and its special tax – the “license fee”

    Let the BBC produce programmes that people want (such as “Sherlock”) and have people pay to watch them. And forget about all the ignorant leftist propaganda of its news and current affairs output – unless, of course, enough people want to pay to see that.

  • Spruance

    @Mr Ed: Thanks for your sympathies – but liberating is exactly what I feel, and, there’s even more: it’s deeply satisfying to let the heavy educational salvos fly by.

  • Mr Ed

    Ah but Paul, the BBC is doing the public a service, by producing programmes that are for the public’s benefit. They know what’s good for you, and they know you won’t like it. There would of course, be a considerable delay before the BBC died were its licence to be revoked, it would have a vast archive to fall back on, and the types of people it employs to produce its output would still form the pool of available ‘talent’ for programme makers and they would probably linger for 10-15 years before a new generation established itself.

    The BBC is truly, a cultural Chernobyl at the heart of British life.

  • The industry is yet to catch up by giving global audiences legal ways to achieve these moments.

    And the global audience is clearly not going to wait for them ;-)

  • Patrick

    I live in the Netherlands and can watch it now on Youku. I’ve noticed if I try to watch on an iPad it won’t work, but if I plug my Sony laptop into the TV I can watch it in HD large flatscreen!

    I don’t subscribe to any TV service here as very few English channels on the Dutch cable packages. But…I can speak and read Chinese so I can pretty much watch what I like via Youku, PPS, PPTV, LiveTV, Youtube full movies, etc – including live telly from across the world, incl BBC and Sky News.

    The Licence Fee’s business model is dead.

  • Runcie Balspune

    “Broadcast” is the opposite of “streaming”, the former needs a broadcaster and a schedule, the latter does not need either.

    Broadcasting is going the way of physical media (CD/DVD), and hopefully when it does disappear the dire overpaid BBC will go with it.

  • Music piracy has greatly declined, I think. Mostly I these days listen to perfectly legal and licensed streaming services in which I can choose the song and in return for which I have to listen to occasional advertisements. This seems to work quite well. I hope that some money is going to the actual artists and composers. If the change in technology has caused some middle men to make less money, I don’t care much. Similarly, a lot of the television that I want to watch is programming that is broadcast on regular, ad funded networks in foreign countries. A streaming service in which I in another country could watch the same programming at the same time with alternative advertisements targeted to people in Britain (or even to me specifically) rather than generic Americans would work for me. There is no doubt a price level at which I would be prepared to pay actual money to watch these programmes without advertising, too, although I am not sure what it would be. It is the job of people who would sell such things to me to experiment and find out.

    This doesn’t exist, though. Programming is traditionally fed to me through a different bunch of intermediaries – local broadcast networks, be they terrestrial, satellite etc. The nature of contracts that foreign broadcasters sign with these organisations prevents the actual producers of the programming from providing it to me directly. Bluntly, the sooner the traditional broadcast networks are out of the way, the better

  • Stephen

    Yes, I watched a Sherlock about a month ago, with my super intelligent 23 yr old niece. We agreed it was vaguely enjoyable but had absolutely no discernible storyline.
    And yes, I mention my niece so you don’t all think I’m probably just too much of an old git to have ‘got it’.
    I wouldn’t have paid a penny to watch it (I live in France, and don’t pay any licence fee), but just buy films or stream them on my iPad. But it’s a bit sad, as I remember watching things like The Forsyte Saga, or Manhunt (anyone remember that?) en famille, and that was fun.
    But now I am being an old git…

  • Richard Thomas

    Streaming is pretty awful. I upgraded out internet service because Netflix would do its little “buffering” thing. It still does it frequently enough to be annoying. Even when it doesn’t, backing up 5 seconds because of missed dialog or otherwise searching for a specific point is painful.

    Local caching would fix that and could be subject to the same encryption as DRM on streaming media. The “Content providers” seem to be scared stiff of that for some reason though.

  • The internet arrived in Australia? When? ;)

  • I hear they have mobile phones too.

  • My sarcasm aside, I’d be surprised if many Australians have internet they can stream TV on. Most packages I’ve seen advertised here are 1) ludicrously expensive compared to Europe and 2) almost always data-capped. Welcome to 1970s monopolies, with geographic isolation passed off as the excuse.

  • Michael Jennings (London)

    Yes, and to solve this problem caused by 1970s monopolies and a lack of competition, the Australian government is spending $50bn (!) of taxpayers money on building a new state owned broadband network.

    It’s not quite streaming, but Australians are possibly the biggest per-capita users of Bittorrent in the world. This would be because the oligopoly of television networks is even worse than the telecommunications providers.

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    What is more, Australians can even try to solve The Times’ crossword! What more could you want?

  • Yup, and down here it’s being dubbed by some as the National Pornband Network, and some wags have pointed out for $50bn it would cheaper to mail porn DVDs to the rural areas instead.

  • Michael Jennings (London)

    At the same time the government does a lot of ranting about establishing national porn filters, yes. (To be fair, a lot of this is ranting for the sake of attempting to satisfy minor party MPs whose votes the government needs rather than ranting from conviction. I think the British government might be worse in terms of trying to actually do this stuff. In terms of incompetence, I would have thought the Australian government was likely to win until last week).

    And yes, the custom of concocting all kinds of, well, stuff in laboratory glassware is long established. As to consuming it from that glassware, sometimes…

  • dfwmtx

    “Also, with Sherlock being such a big hit in the manufacturing capital of the world, I will hopefully be able to order the beer glasses on ebay any moment now.”

    From the pic provided, they look like some of the test tubes I’ve seen in chemistry/biology labs. You should be able to find some online easily.