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Best of 2018: Movies March 31, 2019

Posted by David Card in Media, Uncategorized.
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Photo credit: flickr user Hans Splinter

Based on my personal Rotten Tomatoes ratings, 2018 was a poor year compared with the two years prior. I only rated two new movies 3.5 stars out of 5, versus 6 in 2017 and 5 plus a rare 4-star the year before.

My two favorites of the year didn’t even chart in Box Office Mojo’s domestic top 100. As usual, the top 10 were dominated by superheroes and cartoons, though a biopic snuck in. Does Freddie Mercury count as a superhero?

Some other comments on the box office:

  • For most of the 2010s, there have been three or four $300 to $400 million sellers at the top. 2012’s big Avengers movie bested $600 million, and 2015 saw two re-booted franchises explode: Star Wars sold over $900 million in the U.S. and Jurassic World over $600. Star Wars follow-ons also tended to do very well. In 2018, Disney again did spectacularly, with Black Panther over $700 million, another near-$700 million Avengers title, and the long-awaited Incredibles sequel over $600 million, but the Star Wars Solo was a relative flop. Like 2015, overall ticket sales were up strongly, over 7% better than the prior year.
  • I saw seven of the top 10. The only one I gave a 3-star rating was the latest Mission Impossible. I loved Black Panther’s Afro-futurist look, its women, and Michael B. Jordan’s villain. (I’m definitely Team Killmonger thematically.) But it was way too long, poorly paced, and the special effects were awful.
  • Disney again ruled the roost; its 26% market share was 10 points better than number two Warner Bros. And it’s swallowing up Fox as we speak, presumably to re-unite the rest of the Marvel superheroes.

I have no problem with super blockbusters. I enjoy ’em as much as I do movies for grown-ups. It’s just that this year’s batch wasn’t very good. I’m looking forward to the last Avengers movie, but have no desire to see Aquaman or Shazam. And not because they’re light-hearted – I’m a big fan of the funny Thor episode, even if there’s only so far improv should go.

Last year, like 2017, my tastes looked more adult. The two 3.5 star movies I saw last year:

  • Roma – Full of life and Cuaron’s love of this (his) family and home. The film is beautifully shot, edited, and sound-designed – by all means, see it on a big screen if you can.
  • Free Solo – You’ll catch yourself holding your breath during this documentary. Spectacular footage and gets pretty deep into the heads of the climber and those around him.

The best of the others:

  • First Reformed – Ethan Hawke takes a long look at despair. Will he emerge pastor or Taxi Driver? The script cheats a little – it’s pretty clear whose side of the modern church Calvinist Schrader is on – but the director/writer’s moral convictions are ferocious, his construction formal, and at 71, it’s his best work in 20 years.
  • The Favourite – Your enjoyment will depend on your tolerance for anachronism, misanthropy, and tone shifts. Swift is name-dropped appropriately. Excellent cast, costuming, cinematography (natural lighting plus fish-eye lenses!), soundtrack.
  • A Star is Born – The first half is pretty terrific, but the draggy second half wilts, and I’m torn as to how effective is its meta-ness. While it’s admirably ambiguous on the “what is authentic” angle, the script – by director Cooper – cheats for actor Cooper with a lame backstory and sweetens the male resentment. And “Shallow” is no “The Man That Got Away.”
  • BlacKkKansman – Painful demonstration of just how little has changed. And – no offense to Jordan Peele and Boots Riley, but this is how a master handles tone shifts. The usual Spike Lee high craft in photography and scoring/soundtracking; if only the cast was more charismatic. Driver, who’s growing on me, is very good and Grace is superbly typecast. But Washington shows no signs of his dad’s charm.
  • 8th Grade – I was cringing throughout – I can only imagine how women or parents with daughters will shudder. Pity the middle schooler. 14 year-old Fisher is terrific; was she acting? Does it matter?
  • Mission Impossible: Fallout – The Franchise that Never Fails. Fast chases, silly stunts, triple crosses, a new hot villainess, and the masks are back. Even earns a few laughs poking fun at Tom’s height, running, and stunting.
  • Widows – Artsy heist movie that doesn’t care much about the heist, but digs into the characters and Chicago race/corruption/politics milieu. Solid cast and good script.
  • And a handful of horror movies:
    • Halloween – Michael Meyers and Laurie Strode still have it. Far more than serviceable updating, with a slow build to its very tense last half hour.
    • Hereditary- Superbly cast with several excruciating scenes, classic camera work, and great sound design. But it lacks momentum and chickens out on its toughest themes. Those scenes will stay with you, though.
    • Suspiria – Nobody goes over the top like Guadagnino. (Except, maybe, Argento.)

This year’s Oscars – I went only 17 of 24 and lost the family pool again – made some, shall we say, dubious choices. They didn’t display much in the way of Big Themes in Pop Culture, either. Maybe a bit of a multi-culti vibe. Green Book was charming enough, I suppose, if glaringly obvious. And its attitudes toward race relations seemed far more Driving Miss Daisy than BlacKkKlansman.

Finally, two big disappointments. I had high hopes for what turned out to be the worst movie of the year. A Wrinkle in Time replaced spacey psychology and Christian insights with Oprah-esque self-help platitudes. Please read the book instead. And one of my favorite talents to watch, writer and sometimes director Taylor Sheridan botched the Sicario sequel badly, losing all the first one’s moral ambiguity. If you want some of that, read Don Winslow’s epic War on Drugs trilogy (The Power of the Dog, The Cartel, The Border).

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Best of 2017: Music January 9, 2018

Posted by David Card in Media, Uncategorized.
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Photo credit:  flickr user Ryan Atkins

Friends who like hip hop more than I might disagree, but 2017 wasn’t a very good year for new music. At least not to my alt-rock, Americana, post-punk, ’50s jazz tastes. I’m not sure I can even hit a Top 10 list, so, in no particular order, my favorite new releases of the year were:

  • Cherry Glazerr “Apocalipstick” – catchy, snotty. “We wear our underpants three days in a row.”
  • The National “Sleep Well Beast” – the usual, mostly quiet, despair.
  • St. Vincent “Masseduction” – twisted take on pop.
  • Waxahatchee “Out in the Storm” – rocking a little harder and with a little more polish.
  • Lorde “Melodrama” – now she’s a big star, minimal sophomore slumping.
  • Spoon “Hot Thoughts” – their familiar sound, with just a hint of electronica.
  • Queens of the Stone Age “Villains” – some glam, some Zep, and a little funk from Mark Ronson.
  • Willie Nelson “God’s Problem Child” – the rest of the album is a little limp, but the title track is the best song of the year.
  • Steve Earle & the Dukes “So You Wannabe an Outlaw” – old fashioned country.
  • John Mellencamp “Sad Clowns & Hillbillies” – see above, with more fiddles.

My usual collection of angry and/or fierce women and still-sounds-like-the-’80s bands, plus a whole lot of country/Americana this year. Randomly(?), I’ve got four artists from 2013 repeating this time. I was disappointed by Japandroids and Kendrick Lamar, as well as by the the alterna-supergroups Filthy Friends and Prophets of Rage.

I only bought about a dozen albums, half or less my recent rate. Yes, I’m using streaming (Spotify and Amazon) more. But I still like to throw as much money the artists’ way as possible, and I download rather than stream to my phone. Hey, I still have an iPod. My younger brother’s the one that buys vinyl, though.

Read Mark Mulligan for what real, modern digital aficionados do. I may be aging out of that psychographic.

Best of 2016: Music December 23, 2016

Posted by David Card in Media, Uncategorized.
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Photo credit:  flickr user Ryan Atkins

Just like last year, I’m doing this barely in time for stocking stuffers. Following are my 10 favorite new releases from 2016:

  • Radiohead “A Moon Shaped Pool” – this is a low-flying panic attack.
  • Parquet Courts “Human Performance” – slacker punks take a step forward in song-writing depth. And guitar solos!
  • David Bowie “Blackstar” – sad, wise, haunting, experimental. Way to make an exit by one of the all-time greats.
  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds “Skeleton Tree” – absolutely wrenching.
  • Sturgill Simpson “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” – outlaw country meets orchestra, hot horns section, and “In Bloom,” and somehow it all makes weird sense.
  • Angel Olsen “My Woman” – folky singer-songwriter rocks harder, does a little pop, still goes deep.
  • Paul Simon “Stranger to Stranger” – whoulda thunk? Still catchy after all these years.
  • Iggy Pop “Post Pop Depression” – still snarling after all these years.
  • P.J. Harvey “The Hope Six Demolition Project” – just as angry as Iggy.
  • A Tribe Called Quest “We Got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service” – thou shalt not say “old school.”

Possibly, the gloom and sadness and anger of this list matched my mood for the year.

It didn’t quite make the Top 10, but honorable mention goes Car Seat Headrest’s “Teens of Denial,” hooky indie rock that’s way more rock than mope, even if its lyrics aren’t quite as clever as Pitchfork thinks. And the Stones showed they could still play the blues on “Blue & Lonesome,” but we knew that already. Metallica showed they could still be metal on “Hardwired…to Self-Destruct” where maybe we weren’t so sure.

Not being modern, I still buy albums – 28 this year, 8 from the back catalog, very similar to last year. I like that Amazon will sell me a CD with instant download often for the same price – physical and cloud backup. Some of this behavior is because I want to pay artists better than Spotify does, and some of it’s because I listen to downloads on my phone and an old iPod, rather than streaming my data plan away.

I’m what we used to call back in the Jupiter Research days a “digital music aficionado” (digital user, high spender), so I love the streaming services to experiment and dive deep. But I also agree with Mark Mulligan that $10 per month isn’t a mainstream consumer product, regardless of whether it screws artists worse than their labels used to.

Best of 2015: Music December 23, 2015

Posted by David Card in Media, Uncategorized.
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Slipping in this post in case you need stocking stuffers.

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Photo credit: flickr user Ryan Atkins 

Here they are, my 10 favorite new releases of 2015:

  • Sleater-Kinney “No Cities to Love” – like they never went away. Still ferocious
  • Titus Andronicus “The Most Lamentable Tragedy” – we all need a 2-disc punkish concept album about manic depression sometimes. And it’s got the best punk song in years (Dimed Out)
  • Courtney Barnett “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit” – remember how fresh Liz Phair’s first album sounded? It’s kinda like that
  • The Decemberists “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World” – though I’m not sold on the horns, the whole thing is maddeningly catchy
  • Kendrick Lamar “To Pimp a Butterfly” – justifiably on everybody’s Best of 2015 lists, I love its jazziness
  • Alabama Shakes “Sound + Color” – soulful ear-worms
  • Blur “The Magic Whip” – does this qualify as my usual “geezers who’ve still go it” nomination?
  • Dead Weather “Dodge and Burn” – swampy. The best thing Jack White’s done in years, though it’s really Alison Mossheart’s band now
  • The Libertines “Anthems for Doomed Youth” – see Blur, above. Plus they’ve finally added some polished songwriting around the very British english-major lyrics
  • Grimes “Art Angels” – just one of the weirdest, most eclectic pop albums you’ll hear

Honorable mention to Wilco’s surprisingly rockin’ freebie “Star Wars”, and two more double albums – what? in the age of streaming? – Tenement’s garage-y something or other “Predatory Headlights” and Killing Joke’s ponderous but pounding “Pylon.” Kamasi Washington’s, gulp, 3-disc jazz album, “The Epic” is absolutely worth a listen, but not to my 50s jazz/bop tastes.

I bought 29 albums this year, about 6 or 7 of which were back catalog. That seems to be my pace these days. I still buy downloads, because that’s what I load on my phone. I stream on-demand for discovery, variety, and try-before-you-buy. That’s probably not mainstream behavior, but neither is streaming at $10+ per month. See Mark Mulligan for actual data-backed analysis.

Huge ad merger’s scale argument doesn’t hold up July 29, 2013

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Two of the biggest advertising holding companies, Omnicom and Publicis, would combine to make the biggest mega-agency ever. But is that a good thing? I’m skeptical.

As Om points out, all companies have to be tech companies these days, and advertising powers the business of two of the most important forces in tech, Google and Facebook. Even mainstream media thinks the merger is a big data play. Big tech players like Oracle, Salesforce, and Adobe are bulking up on marketing and advertising technologies through acquisition, and maybe we are heading for a showdown between advertising “art and science.

I’m not going to dwell on how hard it is to pull off mergers of equals, or that client overlap and conflict will open up competition from other agencies. But think of what ad agencies do for their clients. They’re creative consultancies who buy media efficiently in order to reach specific audiences.

I’m hard-pressed to see how getting bigger is going to make the combo more creative. Nor will sheer mass help it respond to one of the key opportunities in marketing: i.e., figuring out how to really use social media for something other than cheap inventory.

The combo may have more buying heft when negotiating media buys – but that’s in television. With the proliferation of ad networks and analytics, buying specific digital audiences is a pretty level playing field, if not a commoditized skill. In theory, the merged company could look at the data from all of its campaigns, digital and traditional, to better understand buying patterns and audience interest, and properly asses the impact of branding campaigns on purchases. That would be huge.

But do you really think a massive organization with all of its fiefdoms and differing “religions” on market analysis – let alone different platforms and tools – is going to pull that off?

 

Happy 237th July 4, 2013

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This year’s patriotic plug, courtesy of a sideways recommendation from Cormac. But White House Down just isn’t Independence Day. As far as I can tell, there aren’t any real Virginians in either. And I’d vote for Jamie Foxx over Bill Pullman, especially if he wore Jordans and packed a rocket launcher.

Happy Fourth. Throw another burger on the grill for me. As always, I’ll bring Mom’s potato salad (never tastes the same twice, but always good).

Gigaom Research launches IT buyer surveys May 22, 2013

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Gigaom Research is launching the first of a series of 2013 surveys of enterprise IT decision makers. This will help drive our analysis on cloud infrastructure, big data, and enterprise mobility issues. To gain further insights into cloud computing issues, we’re collaborating with North Bridge Venture Partners. Together, we’ll share survey results and compare attitudes on the future of cloud computing among mainstream IT buyers, leading-edge customers, and technology vendors. We’ll present some of our findings next month at our annual Structure event in San Francisco.

I encourage GigaOM Pro subscribers and other readers to take North Bridge’s survey – the more responses we get, the deeper we’ll be able to dig. You can see their 2012 results here.

Below is a result from last year’s GigaOM Research survey. I wonder how attitudes are evolving.

[dataset id=”160565″]

Unleashing the European app economy May 9, 2013

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While the markets for apps that run on mobile and social platforms have exploded in the U.S., they’re just getting underway in Europe. GigaOM Research is teaming up with the Digital Enterprise Research Institute at NUI Galway and the European Commission to better understand the potential European opportunity, and to identify potential hurdles to growth that EC policies might address. We’re kicking off the project with a workshop in Brussels on June 14.

We profiled apps developers and their business models in this 2012 survey-driven report with the help of the Application Developers Alliance, and we’ll be doing similar scoping for the Eurapp project, as well forecasting spending and job creation, and using workshops and crowdsourcing challenges to help guide EC policy ideas. Eurapp is part of the Startup Europe initiative of the European Commission’s Digital Agenda, which aims to help tech entrepreneurs start, maintain and grow their businesses in Europe.

The Shape the Future workshop in June will have invited speakers from the apps industry, including Samsung, Tyba, and Betapond. The format will be a series of lightning talks featuring experts in the space, followed by Mapping Sessions to probe attendees’ collective thinking and examine some of the issues to be tackled in growing the app economy in Europe. After the workshop, we’ll crowdsource solutions to address bottlenecks and to suggest potential success strategies via two innovation challenges via the Innocentive platform.

Attendees at the event include: Peter Elger, CTO of Betapond; Kumardev Chatterjee, founder of the European Young Innovators Forum; Kevin Mobbs, Director of Innovation Programs EMEA at Innocentive; and Eurapp project lead John Breslin, who is also co-founder of boards.ie and the app company StreamGlider. I’ll be there as well.

The workshop will be held in BU33, Auderghem in Brussels on 14th June 2013. There are very limited places available for the workshop, but you can apply to attend at http://eurapp.eu/

 

Mapping Session results: Data markets April 24, 2013

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Our break-out Mapping Session at Structure:Data didn’t product the usual trend analysis framework we strive for, but it did give us some insights in what analysis we need to do to understand the sector’s potential. Generally, we host a Mapping Session discussion, moderated by GigaOM Research analysts with the idea that well pose some key questions on a market, and work toward identifying the key technologies, business models, and user patterns that constitute the trends that smart companies can drive or ride to gains in revenue and market share.

We call those Disruption Vectors, and Mapping Sessions can fuel GigaOM Sector RoadMap reports, where we take the next step and score companies based on their alignment with the trends. But in this case, we confirmed GigaOM analyst Paul Miller’s earlier analysis of data markets. At this point, data markets are a technology in search of a business model.

There’s a reason Infochimps is now more focused on tools than markets, and Kasabi exited the space. It’s not enough to simply say: “here’s some data packages enabled by the new technologies, now go make something of it.”

We concluded during the session that a valid research approach would be to first review existing data(base) markets like Lexis-Nexis, Reed, IHS, Nielsen, mapping, etc., to creates some frameworks for how to exploit the potential presented by the new tech: big data, social media data, Hadoop, analysis tools. The early players were a bit too focused on APIs and early visualization tools, and were missing some critical aspects of a marketplace:

  • An initial customer set they were close to, so that they could better identify opportunities and fine-tune their offerings
  • Case studies from the above that they could market as proofs-of-concept
  • Deeper consulting services aligned with vertical industry markets
  • A way to translate raw data into “currency” similar to how the media industry uses Nielsen ratings to price advertising and measure efficiencies

So we’ll get on it.

Feedback

We welcome your feedback on our approach, and on what you think might accelerate the success of data markets. Are we on the right track. What forces do you believe will be key to driving the sector over the next 12 to 24 months? Continue the discussion by leaving a comment below.

Mapping Session panelists

Mapping Session results: Mobile media monetization April 24, 2013

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Last week at GigaOM’s paidContent Live conference in New York, we hosted a break-out Mapping Session to assess what the mobile media industry sees as the strategies and technologies with the most promise of generating revenues and/or disrupting the sector. The resulting consensus was that mobile sponsorships and apps bundled with things like special offers or utility functions would be the horses media and entertainment companies should ride for the next 12 to 24 months.

GigaOM Research Mapping Sessions are facilitated discussions that tap into the GigaOM community to test hypotheses on new technologies, business models, customer trends, etc. We’ve hosted Mapping Sessions on topics like mobile shopping and next-generation user interfaces. They often feed into and set up more detailed analysis we deliver through Sector RoadMap reports.

Media companies have embraced apps – both for truly mobile content and in support of tablets – partly to deliver a user experience optimized for the (small) screen and gesture interface, and partly because they could charge modest sums to consumers for them. Not to mention that mobile is where the audience is. We wondered if that ability to charge would lessen over time — would competition drive away paywalls a la the desktop web, or would HTML5 alleviate the need to customize apps for mobility? HTML5’s solution to the mobile experience will likely take some time, as Facebook and others have realized. But overall, session participants did not seem excited about the ability to charge for media apps other than games or semi-exclusive content like databases, financial news/analysis, and streaming music.

At the same time, mobile ad pricing – outside of search – is higher than that of display ads on the wider web. But as mobile inventory increases, will mobile display ad rates follow online’s declining CPMs? Session participants were more bullish than I am. They believed premium pricing will maintain, driven by 1) the omnipresence of mobile phones, 2) the potentially superior context (location, real-time activities, in- or near-store shopping) that mobile ads can deliver, and 3) the opportunity for mobile ads to be shown deep into a shopper’s purchase cycle. That’s the promise, anyway. Currently the reality is that mobile ad spending is dominated by search – which few media companies can leverage – and Facebook’s volumes of cheap, lightly targeted inventory. On an earlier panel discussion, digital marketing maven Jeff Dachis said mobile was an “engagement” rather than advertising medium.

Assessing market disruption and opportunity

GigaOM Sector RoadMap reports — on categories like crowd labor platforms and work media tools — are collaborative research efforts that match up competitors’ abilities to align with what we call Disruption Vectors, i.e., the key technology or market forces that drive emerging markets. Smart vendors can harness Disruption Vectors to gains in revenue or market share. We steered the Mapping Session towards identifying the mobile media monetization Disruption Vectors, and came up with the following near-term outlook. We asked the participants to vote on the trend or market force they though would be the most important for monetizing mobile media in the next 12-24 months and then choose the one they deemed second most important. I roughly tallied the results from the room:

[dataset id=”173923″]

Source: GigaOM Research Mapping Session, April 2013

Mobile sponsorships/native advertising. After noting that the top iOS paid apps were mostly games, session participants gravitated towards sponsorships. So-called “native advertising” – i.e., the latest buzz-phrase attached to age-old marketing tactics like sponsored content and advertorials – seemed to fit into this bucket as well. There’s only so many content types that fit into a game format, so exploiting this opportunity may be limited, or require much softer ROI analysis, like sponsorships in traditional media.

“The Polybag effect.” Participants were intrigued by a somewhat similar strategy to that of sponsorships: that of bundling content, apps, and utility services, possibly via real-time audience or behavioral targeting. The idea would be that, like a polybagged magazine that included other offers or content, mobile apps and content could be matched up at download time.

Payment system momentum. The people in the room also felt that even though mobile payments and location technologies like NFC might be a ways off in terms of mass adoption by users, there would be enough action on the supply side to create interest and opportunity.

Mobile ad differentiation. A handful of participants thought that mobile advertising rates would hold up strongly, due to the targeting and other differentiation noted above. Many in the room seemed interested in the longer-term payoff from better contextual targeting and even augmented reality integration that will figure in mobile advertising’s future.

Data licensing. The single most popular secondary disruption vector was licensing. Despite concerns from the panelists about privacy, potential legislation, and most media companies’ inability to spawn dedicated data licensing businesses, there’s a lot of hope around this model.

Charging for apps. Few thought media companies could make much money charging for apps. Lkiewise, up-selling virtual goods seems mostly games-related, and dependent on the minority “whales,” who are the most addicted users.

This was a lively session, with lots of good discussion. I’m not convinced we’ve properly weighted the different Disruption Vectors in mobile media, but clearly the participants favor advertising over fee-based apps, while they’re gazing fondly at the promise of creating a data business.

Feedback

We welcome your feedback on these disruptive trends and whether or not they represent real mobile revenue opportunities. What do you think will accelerate the success of mobile media apps? Have we missed or mis-emphasized anything that you believe will be key to driving the sector over the next 12 to 24 months? Continue the discussion by leaving a comment below.

Mapping Session panelists

The GigaOM Research analysts that participated in the Mapping Session were: