Douglas Crockford




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Pronouns: pe/per


July 2006

The Format War Continues

The HD-DVD v Blu-Ray format war (aka Toshiba v Sony) goes on, and there is no end in sight. Both systems got to market. Neither is getting any traction. Toshiba prices its HD-A1 at $200 below cost; it is still overpriced. Toshiba and Sony both stand to benefit greatly if they win, but the costs are mounting.

When the FCC began planning for HDTV, all of their attention was on broadcasting. Since then, broadcasting has become irrelevant. The significant distribution mediums are now cable, satellite, DVD, and potentially IPTV. From the perspective of the Content Industry, DVD is by far the fattest wedge of the pie. But lacking a common HD format, that business is stalled. Cable can carry their HDTV product, but that represents a much skinnier wedge, so the content is being held back so as not to weaken demand for the more lucurative future disc product.

So the vast majority of video content is not available in HD. This has an impact on TV set manufacturers and retailers. Why should consumers pay a premium for HDTV when the latest movies are not available in HD?

I think the reasons people have been buying the big sets are

  1. Big Screen
  2. Shallow cabinet
  3. Regular DVDs look pretty darn good
  4. HDTV programming

HDTV Programming has been a very distant 4th. When the format war is resolved, it can shift to 1st because a lot of HDTV disc product can come online, and more material can then be released to cable and satellite.

There is a lot of money at stake, and very often, big money can't wait. My advice to Toshiba & Sony: Finish this now, or you will both lose.

Offensive and Objectionable

We have laws and conventions to protect people from what is offensive and objectionable, and at times I find that to be offensive and objectionable. For example, our local PBS affiliate showed All the President's Men last week, and lacking cojones as they do, they bleeped it. They took out stuff like asshole, bullshit, and worst of all, ratfucking. Ratfucking is a technical term which applies to a class of crimes committed in the course of a political campaign. Exposing this terrible behavior is one of the central ideas in this film. It has nothing to do with rodents having sex. I was deeply offended that one of the finest political dramas ever made was censored by a so-called Public Broadcaster. They censored a film about Freedom of the Press. This is deeply offensive.

Somebody in the Administration got to PBS.

What Would Jesus Watch?

Last year the Congress passed the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act. It basically declared that the DVD censoring products made by ClearPlay of Utah are legal and do not infringe on copyrights. The ClearPlay system uses specially doctored DVD players that can be programmed with edit lists that are provided by ClearPlay. When you play a DVD, the edit list will cause the player to bleep specific dialog or to skip frames. It lets you dumb down the movies that you watch. Recent ClearPlay edit lists include The Matador, Syriana, Aquamarine, and Cheaper by the Dozen 2.

ClearPlay sought legislative protection because the Studios had been threatening them. As expected, MPAA led the fight against the legislation, but as effective as it is at lobbying, it lacks the clout to go directly against the Religious Right which wants ClearPlay. MPAA put on a show to impress the Director's Guild, but since the issue was about artistic integrity, not money, they saved most of their political ammo for more important fights.


When Sony introduced the PSP, there was a lot of interest in the ability of its UMD disc format to deliver movies. There were some who thought that UMD might become a popular format, alongside DVD. But then reality set in, and UMD movies are fading. Retailers are cutting way back on what they will stock, or cutting it entirely. What went wrong?

There are some who think that when hackers figured out how to break the copy protection on UMD (which they always do) that the business was destroyed. I think this is unlikely.

I think the initial sales of UMD movies were strictly for novelty value, so that you could show off. Hey look, mine plays movies, too. The people who bought PSP were gamers, not movie goers. Gamers buy games. The movie guys are buying HDTV sets.

Short form programming, like Family Guy and Aqua Teen Hunger Force seem to do ok, which suggests that perhaps watching a 2 hour movie on something hand held is a lousy experience.

The CW

Big Media is consolidating, dominated by a decreasing number of larger players, and broadcast television is failing. We will see both of these trends in the birth of The CW on 2006-09-18. It is an attempt to salvage the programming and meager audience of two lost networks, UPN and the WB. This new network is a joint venture of CBS and Time Warner.

The CW name contains the initials of two media brands. CBS chairman Les Moonves said "we couldn't call it the WC for obvious reasons." The reason might be obvious to the fossils at CBS. I think it would have been lost on their intended under-educated, young hipster-spender demographic.

Be the Boss

Jack Valenti testified before Congress again yesterday, this time promoting a $300,000,000 (can that be right?) campaign to promote the V-Chip. Since the V-Chip is required by law to be built into every TV set, you might wonder why a campaign is necessary. The reason is that no one uses it.

Beloved Alaska Funnyman Ted ("And if you don't understand those tubes") Stevens said "I hope Congress will listen to this and give it time to work." I predict that broadcast television dies before the V-Chip catches on. Stevens himself might outlive both.