No more laptops?

I was just sent this link. Is this a real invention? Anyone know anymore? projectioncomputer.jpg

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Z Channel and the Academy Awards – part 2

Back then, HBO hbo.jpg and SHOWTIME showtime.jpg advertised ‘exclusive’ movies to attract consumers to subscribe. The only way the regular average ‘joe’ consumer knew that ‘Beverly Hills Cop’ or ‘Indiana Jones’ was exclusive to SHOWTIME or HBO back then was if somehow that ‘joe’ saw or heard an advertisement to that effect. BTW as an aside, I believe that the notion of film/pay TV exclusives was invented by Barry Diller while at Paramount (under Bill Mechanics tenure). Otherwise, no one really knew that HBO only had Warner Bros. movies, Universal, Fox and Columbia (Sony) but not Disney and Paramount. But frankly, consumers didn’t care. They only cared that they could watch Beverly Hills Cop on SHOWTIME that month. Movie titles, not actor or Studio names drove the pay TV services. This actually was in direct contrast to what drove movie audiences in the 40-‘s 70’s, which was actors and actress’ names, not titles.

There was no internet for public consumption in 1980. There was no Kazaa, no Limelight. Just video tape and Z Channel. Every month, Z Channel printed a full color, wonderfully full sized (8 1/2″ X 12″) movie guide. Complete with review, full cast and credit lists (down to every gaffer) and plain, unabashed commentary of every film. If Z didn’t like it, they were honest. They loved movies that were disasters and gave them all a platform for exhibition (i.e. Heavens Gate or Howard the Duck). They were the ‘road warrior’ of movie channels. They had more subscribers than HBO and SHOWTIME COMBINED here in southern Los Angeles.

No other pay movie channel ever did movies like Z did. If you were a lover of movies then you couldn’t do without the channel in your home. Not only movies, but they featured Disney, Universal, Hanna Barbara, Avery, Jones, Clampett, Iwerks and Fleischer Animation, classic film series focusing on certain film genre’s: Film Noir, Fallen Women, Gangsters, Greatest Cartoons and Outrageous Cartoons, Hepburn and Tracy, Bacall and Bogart, Grant and Hepburn, Hitchcock and Wells, and John Waters to Cassavettes and more.

So, how was Z Channel able to show Academy Award nominated movies each year prior to the film’s ancillary release to video, airlines, syndication, etc? Not even the dominant Pay service HBO or Showtime were able to show these films. First, Z Channel was not broadcast on a satellite, therefore the signal was not exposed to anyone outside Los Angeles. The Studios rationalized that this ‘local only’ exhibition limited, to an extent, the films exposure and really wouldn’t spoil any subsequent ancillary releases. This was the early 80’s and at that time the video release was the primary revenue generator for the Studios next to pay TV. If the Studios allowed a nationwide release of these films, they would have spoiled the national Pay TV release and ultimately not been able to command the same kinds of prices (license fees) from HBO and Showtime that they were getting. Second, the studios agreed to let Jerry play these films because the screenings helped Academy members screen the films they were suppose to be voting for (the early version of getting a ‘screener’ en-mass). Third, they loved Jerry. They loved his enthusiasm for film, his love of restoring films that were cut to shreds by their distributors (the studios). And, the guys that were in charge of licensing at that time (some) were true film lovers. Bill Mechanic (former CEO of 20th Century Fox, responsible for ‘Titanic’ and the Disney ‘limited release’ VHS strategy) was VP at Paramount, Ned Nalle was VP at Universal, Jamie (The WB TV) Kellner was VP at Orion and Eric Frankel was VP at Warner Bros.

Z was a maverick. The maverick for a pay TV service that should have survived but didn’t. I miss Jerry Harvey and I bet a few people here in Los Angeles miss the Z Channel too. But most of all of what I miss about the Z Channel is the thrill of discovery of the movies. The ones I missed and could read all about and watch and the ones I ever knew I missed, plus all of my favorites.

In September 1987, Rock Associates, a small Seattle company, bought Z and wanted to take it national to compete with HBO and Showtime. A month later, Rock Associates was wiped out in the stock market crash of Oct. 19. In an attempt to save Z Channel, Harvey agreed to merge the company with American Spectacor, a cable firm that had bought the rights to broadcast Dodgers and Angels baseball games. Under the agreement, Z would broadcast live sports and continue to show movies. But the combination did not work for the channel’s fans or its programmer.

Harvey murdered his wife and then killed himself. They were both 39. Z went under a year later. The entwined stories of Harvey and his movie channel are the subject of “Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession,” a very good documentary by Xan Cassavete.

All in all, I wish there were other ‘maverick’, type channels that one can sample or watch and discover new programming on. If I have taken too long to make a point, I apologize. What I’ve meant to say from the beginning is this: I think the internet IS that ‘next’ place to discover that new programming or movie/TV show. Its not cable TV anymore. That’s your grandfathers TV.

First there was HBO and Showtime, then came the internet with Kazaa and Limelight, but who was REALLY the first and better than all the rest put together? It was the ‘Z Channel’.

Part 1

Full disclosure first: I used to work for Westinghouse Broadcasting and Cable and they used to own and promote the Z Channel, The Country Music Channel, Home Theater Network, Satellite News Channel and The Travel Channel as well as many radio stations. zmag.jpg

In the 1970’s Jerry Harvey programmed movies for the Beverly Canon, a repertory theater in Los Angeles, and made a name for himself when he booked the uncut version of “The Wild Bunch” and its director, Sam Peckinpah, delivered the print in person. Z Channel had been started in 1974 by a cable franchise as one of the country’s first pay-movie channels. In 1980 Harvey wrote to Z’s new owner, Select TV, complaining that their programming was terrible. He was hired. Under Harvey, the Z Channel became a 24-hour mix of films by auteur directors like François Truffaut and Akira Kurosawa, little-known European movies, popular fare like “Silver Streak” and “The Empire Strikes Back” , Fast Times At Ridgemont High, The Road Warrior: Mad Max 2, and, late at night, soft-core offerings. Harvey soon found another niche for the channel to fill. After “Heaven’s Gate” was re-edited and shortened in a failed attempt to reverse its course as the biggest flop in movie history, he decided to play Michael Cimino’s four-hour original version. The reassembled movie received admiring reviews, and the Z Channel was regarded as a new kind of salvager.

While working at Westinghouse, I was tasked with launching Z Channel as a satellite national pay TV subscription channel and boy, was I jazzed to get this done. I thought the Z Channel was the nest best thing invented for pay TV next to the folded napkin. The problem was, once the ‘local’ footprint left for a ‘national’ footprint, different rules of the game in Hollywood applied and Z was not given the kind of licensing rights for films that they were granted locally. This made a subscription look more like a poor man’s HBO or SHOWTIME and that would not have worked on a national level.

“The whole idea of a director’s cut being something you could actually market came out of his rescue of ‘Heaven’s Gate,’ ” Mr. Feeney said. “It’s an important measure, because home video, home viewing via pay TV, these things have really revolutionized how we perceive movies.” (Feeney or F.X. – was a brilliant reviewer working for Z Channel at the time).

Harvey went on to do the same kinds of unusual broadcasts with Wolfgang Petersen ‘s six-hour “Das Boot,” originally a mini-series in Germany; Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 14-hour “Berlin Alexanderplatz”; and the five-and-a-half-hour version of Bernardo Bertolucci’s “1900.” (In “Z Channel,” Mr. Payne brags that he still has the “1900” he recorded on VHS at the time.) Harvey played the cut and uncut versions of Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in America” as a double feature to show the difference in quality.

Harvey also gave us sneak previews of every academy award nominated film each year in January, right after the nominations came out. Those of us who were subscribers in southern California looked forward to that week on Z. Somehow, someway Harvey was able to get a copy from each of the studios months BEFORE the film was released on VHS. A totally unprecedented event in the world of pay TV, this was the ultimate cool factor for a pay TV service at that time. No other Pay TV service was doing this or even thought of it.

Android Prototype…coming in Feb?

I couldn’t resist – here’s a picture (supposedly) android of the new Android OS (Google phone) on a phone manufactured by HT. Google has taken 2 stands at the Mobile Conference Expo in Barcelona Spain (kicking off Feb. 11th, 2008). Rumor has it they MIGHT announce their new efforts at this conference. The phone looks clunky to me, a bit like my Moto Q and nothing like the cool iPhone, but we’ll have to wait and see. I am sure the OS will be installed in other phones as well.

Pirated Screeners…your ‘Christmas’ update. Brought to you by…. The Studios!

warner.jpguniversal.jpgparamount.jpgcolumbiatristar.jpgdisney1.jpgmgm.jpg It’s Christmas time and more and more of those ever ‘elusive’ screeners are appearing now online each day (and other films too, not just screeners) . Just showing up last night and ALL in DVD Screener quality; I am Legend , Gone Baby Gone, Zodiac, Resident Evil Extinction, Stardust, The Simpsons Movie, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, Eastern Promises, Underdog (what a waste of digital storage space), Once, The Kite Runner, 3:10 to Yuma, Atonement, The Bee Movie,  No Country for Old Men,  Alvin and The Chipmunks, August Rush, and The Perfect Holiday. Still MIA are (but I expect will rear their heads in a few days); Fred Claus, Enchanted,  Michael Clayton,  The Golden Compass, Sweeney Todd, Charlie Wilson’s War, Beowolf, P.S. I Love You and National Treasure: Book of Secrets.

The DVD screeners are nearly all ‘poached’ from someone in each studio. The screener ‘log’ number (embedded in the digital copy near the bottom of the screen) has been digitally removed so it can’t be identified as to whose screener copy it actually was.

It appears that the crop of pictures are as robust as last years and that despite numerous anti-theft measures by each studio, films STILL make it out the door. Some are Region 5 copies, most are dvd screeners, internal to each studio. However, with the demise of Kazaa and Limewire in the past year and half, the distribution of these ‘pirated’ copies has diminished. The reason being that Kazaa and Limewire enabled the non-technical consumers to be able to download a copy of anything with only 1 click. Getting films such as the ones I’ve mentioned above now from newsgroups requires a pretty sophisticated and long process and some technical understanding and expertise. Most of this is well beyond the masses online. That’s the good news. But in truth, these ‘advance’ screeners end up being discussed and chatted about online much like topics you might discuss around the proverbial ‘water cooler’ at your office. These discussions (positive or negative) filter down into people’s blogs, messageboards, IM chats and eventually get swept up onto Google somewhere giving that film some additional exposure it never would of had through traditional channels. After all, isn’t that what each studio tries to do with all of their content when its released, ultimately promote it? Wouldn’t it be cool one day if someone at a studio realized all of this and made a film with 2 different endings (or additional scenes) to try and take advantage of this unregulated distribution ‘channel’. Purposely release the DVD screener of 1 version (ending) and then the other (the theatrical version) through normal channels. Think of the buzz and consumer demand (especially if the film was popular) to now find that other version and see the alternate ending. Of course, then they could release THAT version through traditional channels giving the studio’s perhaps a larger slice of DVD sales at retail.

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Migration to the web or how I learned to give up my Microsoft habit (software)

I think I finally did it. But it wasn’t me. The web finally has matured enough so that I feel confident enough to allow my data and information to be stored somewhere else other than my laptop or computer at home. Since I can remember, I have used as millions have used Microsoft’s Office suite (Outlook, word, excel, power point, etc). I never had a choice. Especially with Outlook. Yes, Outlook. It has all of my contacts, phone numbers email addresses, special notes I’ve made about different friends or family remembers, my passwords and registrations for various sites and software +. I’ve always feared losing my Outlook or having the file become corrupted so over the years I’ve gotten to be somewhat of an expert or at least not a novice in understanding how to back-up and move around my Outlook file (called a “.pst” file extension). I had a computer at work so wherever I worked I needed my numbers addresses etc. So, I’ve had to keep current and up-to-date an outlook file for 2 places – home and the office. This has required that I copy EVERY night before I leave for another physical location (i.e., work) my Outlook file so any email messages or other data like new appointments I’ve entered that night get saved and travel with me to work the next day. Outlook .pst files are NOT small files. Mine is quite large. In order to do this, I’ve had to carry a small portable hard drive (now a flash USB drive because they are larger in capacity than they ever used to be) which I copied my .pst file every night or morning before leaving one place or the other. And there were times I forgot so I had to create workarounds. It was nothing short of a big PIA!

Last week I took the plunge and discarded Outlook – I’ve never been happier. In fact, I’ve discarded the entire MS Office suite. And I can still do everything that I want to do using other productivity tools for free on the web. So, here is what I have substituted for MS Office:

1. Outlook=Thunderbird + a Gmail IMAP account thunderbird logo

Thunderbird, Mozilla’s version of Outlook, looks and feels JUST like Outlook. Its easier to use, faster and backing it up is super fast and easy. Combine this with a free Gmail account (only using IMAP) and you can have your Outlook functionality, store your old email messages and folders and store your new messages as they come into your inbox whether you use a work email address (can be a POP account). Using Gmail’s new support for IMAP is one of the key’s. Think of IMAP as a place to store your email on a remote server/computer that’s always available (Google’s not going anywhere soon in my lifetime so I’m sure my account will be around forever). Think of POP as a local way to store your email information.

2. Calendar on Outlook=Lightning 0.7 lightning add-on for Thunderbird

Grab the free Mozilla add-on called Lightning. This will import your Outlook Calendar into Lightning. Looks and feels just like Outlook. Now, go to Google again and get a free Calendar. Now pay attention. Go get ‘Provider for Google’ another little add-on for Lightning and you’ll be able to save your calendar on the web in Google Calendar. You can add an event in your Thunderbird/Lightning calendar and presto, it shows up on your Google Calendar and vice-versa.

3. Google Docs= MS Word, MS Excel, MS Power Point +

Get a Google Docs account and you’ll be able to create Word or Excel type docs, store them on your computer/laptop AND store them on the web in Google Docs. They are always accessible as long as I have a browser if I didn’t save a local copy on my hard drive.

Backing up Thunderbird and Lightning is easy using Moz Backup. A few clicks of next and you’re done. There is even a way to sync all of this to your Windows Mobile Smartphone or Windows Mobile Phone using GMobileSync. So, even though there is a new vcersion of Office out now and new version due in 2008, I think I’m going this route. I’m no longer tethered to my computer. If I loose my laptop or it breaks – just fix it and re-download my apps. The data will still be there – as long as Google sticks around and they aren’t going anywhere as far as I can tell anytime soon.

iPhone for a Christmas present? Not anymore.

I was going to splurge this Christmas and buy myself a ‘jailbreaked’ iphone on eBay. I had it all planned, get the phone, make sure it works ok and then call Sprint and find the lowest cost plan I can possibly get and presto! A new cool iphone, no more cell phone bills and I’m a happy camper. But wait, did I hear AT &T announce last week that they are going to start selling a new, faster iPhone (3G) beginning early next year? Well, that kinda makes the iphone I planned on buying (and I’m sure about another million or so people planned on as well for gifts) already outdated. And I’m sure Apple or AT & T won’t offer an upgrade option.

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The fact that the CEO of A T & T who has a 5 yr. ‘exclusive’ arrangement to sell iphones made this announcement within one month of Christmas this year was remarkable. Was this by accident he announced this right before Christmas? No, it was no accident – it was done on purpose to ‘kill’ a heck of a lot of iphone sales. But why would A T & T shoot itself in the foot like this?

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Well, here’s one guess: A T & T thought that they had and exclusive from other carriers and, in fact they did under the terms of their agreement, however, they don’t have an exclusive from a yet ‘unnamed’ carrier or what could be a ‘new’ carrier IF Google wins the 700 Mghz spectrum auction bid. So, I think A T & T knows that Google and Apple might team up together and bid on this new spectrum to supply to consumers their own network and cell phones. Therefore, A T & T must now contemplate competing and biding on that auction (or teaming up with someone) to bid to keep everything in ‘check’. How awesome would a new mobile network be with Google owning the network and Apple suppling the phones? Its been speculated that the reason why Apple has been slow to allow VOIP application on the iphone is because they want to be the first company to announce something like this. An announcement to consumers that they can soon make free calls on their iphone using VOIP in exchange for seeing some ads would take a big chunk of the cell phone market away from the mobile carriers. So, why buy an outdated iphone for Christmas? Just wait until the newer, faster model arrives. That’s my plan.