Here's everything you need to know about the world of television for Friday, July 23rd, 2021. I'm writing this from the Twin Cities suburbs, where AllYourScreens HQ is powered by coffee and Werther's soft caramel candy.
I will be on vacation next week, spending a few days at the beach. There will be a newsletter on Friday, but it's likely to be a bit shorter than usual. I can really use the break because the following week the TCA's begin and then the new fall season and then....
NETFLIX, GAMES AND INTERACTIVE CONTENT
A lot of attention this week has been paid to Netflix's probable move into mobile gaming. But my question is how Netflix's interactive content will fit into this mix. The streaming service has devoted a lot of time and effort into building its version of the "Choose Your Adventure" story and over the past two years they have rolled out one-off interactive episodes of everything from Captain Underpants to Black Mirror. Generally, the animated efforts seem to work best, in part because the format allows for a wider range of viewing choices. With a couple of exceptions, the software works seamlessly and it brings a different dimension to how subscribers interact with Netflix. But I get the sense that Netflix still doesn't quite know what to do with the concept.
Part of the challenge is that the idea is constrained by the fact that Netflix is being consumed on a number of platforms with a variety of controllers. So any interface has to extremely simple and easy to figure out. Still, I can see how Netflix could cut a deal with the NFL to use game footage to create a "Create Your Own Adventure" version of a big rival matchup, the fate of which would depend on what decisions you make along the way. Or it could create games that allow subscribers to tackle a question such as "You're 30 years old and you've just won $50 million in a lottery. What do you do?" Each choice takes you down a different path and the goal is to hit retirement age with as much money as possible. Or Netflix can create interactive "super fan" quizzes that test someone's deep knowledge of The Witcher or The Crown.
I think this interactive platform Netflix has created doesn't get enough attention and I think that's a mistake. Because it provides the easiest way into the world of gaming.
I AM ALREADY WEARY OF THE METAVERSE
At first glance, this might seem a bit off-topic for a newsletter that is primarily concerned with television and the streaming world. But this is an idea that is going to seep into every corner of the entertainment industry, and you are likely only about three months from your boss wondering out loud in a meeting "Should we be doing something with this Metaverse thing?"
The Metaverse idea is based on Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash, and it basically reimagines the Internet as an interconnected virtual world. Imagine everything you do online being done in some heavily commercialized Fortnite interface. The idea has been kicking around for awhile, but it gained traction in the investment world when venture capitalist Matthew Ball wrote a nine-piece treatise outlining a tightly integrated world where everyone interacted via avatars and traded virtual goods that would of course be sold to you by big corporations tracking your every move:
This is where the potential for Omniverse gets so exciting. As the world shifts to mirrorworlds and simulation technology, it becomes possible to interconnect previously independent simulations. Imagine interconnecting the Hong Kong International Airport to the local highway to scenario-test the flow of traffic. Then to the streetlights system that manages that traffic. Potentially with precise information on every car on the local grid.
The best indication this is a bad idea is that the Metaverse concept is extremely popular with Silicon Valley venture capitalists, the crypto community and Mark Zuckerberg. Zuck just gave an interview to The Verge's Casey Newton in which he raved about the Metaverse concept and how he is positioning Facebook to be a major player in any future Metaverse:
And my hope, if we do this well, I think over the next five years or so, in this next chapter of our company, I think we will effectively transition from people seeing us as primarily being a social media company to being a metaverse company. And obviously, all of the work that we’re doing across the apps that people use today contribute directly to this vision in terms of building community and creators. So there’s a lot to jump into here. I’m curious what direction you want to take this in. But this is something that I’m spending a lot of time on, thinking a lot about, we’re working on a ton. And I think it’s just a big part of the next chapter for the work that we’re going to do in the whole industry.
If the idea of combining the problems of the blockchain with the invasiveness of Facebook sounds like a dream world, then you are going to love the Metaverse.
I have many concerns about the idea, the most obvious one the issue of privacy and the problem of having your Avatar - your online personality - attached to a blockchain. Entries in a blockchain can't be deleted, can't be changed without leaving a very public trail. And given all of the problems that we are already having with digital trails and personal information following us around, do we really want to create a world in which any mistake is on our public record forever? Every online interaction is there to be dug out by a future spouse or child?
I understand why this idea is so attractive to venture capitalists. It's a new world of selling opportunities and with the ability to follow your customers online, the upside is nearly unlimited.
But is that the world most customers want? I suspect if you asked them, they would prefer to balance convenience with privacy. And that's really the first question that should be addressed in any meeting that involves the Metaverse: what is best for our customers? Because whether it is a streaming service or digital goods, if you approach the problem from a customer-first direction, you will almost always come out ahead financially.
TBH, I WOULD WATCH THIS ON PAY-PER-VIEW
As you probably know, television coverage rights to the Olympics are sold off to local or regional broadcasters in each country. Which means that while those of us in the United States are familiar with NBC's kinda predictable template for covering Olympic events such as the opening ceremony, other broadcasters have their own approach. And while I haven't seen every broadcaster's opening ceremony coverage, it's hard to imagine one that is more painful to watch than the one put together by South Korea's MBC, which for some reason, decided to choose an image that they believe best "represented" each country in the ceremony. Spoiler: it do not go well.
For Haiti, they included an image of rioting in the streets:
And if it's Italy, it's got to be pizza:
Norway gets an image of salmon...
And The Ukraine team got an image of Chernobyl...
After the ceremony, the MBC issued a statement apologizing for the decision:
In today's Opening Ceremony broadcast, inappropriate photos were used when introducing countries like Ukraine and Haiti. Also, inappropriate photos and subtitles were used for other countries. We apologize to the viewers of Ukraine and other countries.
Some of those other countries might be the Marshall Islands, which the announcer described as once being "a nuclear test site for the US." Or Micronesia, which for some reason they placed in the Atlantic Ocean:
SEE YOU NEXT FRIDAY!