September 3rd, 2011

Netflix, Starz, Malone and Wild, Unfounded Speculation

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/entertainmentnewsbuzz/2011/09/netflix-to-lose-starz-its-most-valuable-source-of-new-movies.html

Netflix has had a deal with Starz since 2008, set to expire early in 2012. The mobile viewing market has changed a lot since then. Starz has decided not to re-up and announced that.

The blogger above offers this explanation:

"However, executives at Starz apparently concluded that they would lose even more money by giving consumers a reason to subscribe to Netflix instead of the cable channel."

I think that explanation is highly unlikely, even compared to other speculation.

Here's a quote about why Starz said they did this:

""This decision is a result of our strategy to protect the premium nature of our brand by preserving the appropriate pricing and packaging of our exclusive and highly valuable content," Starz said in a statement Thursday. "With our current studio rights and growing original programming presence, the network is in an excellent position to evaluate new opportunities and expand its overall business.""

You can read all kinds of things into that. Here's what I get:

(1) A patent lawsuit against Amazon but not B&N
(2) Buying into B&N with the avowed intention of accessing the Nook business
(3) Not renewing a contract that puts Starz content on other tablets.

And I get: oh, look, the Nook is about to become a cheap media tablet, competing against the premium tablet (iPad) and everything else.

However, other commenters go elsewhere:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-09-02/dish-said-to-plan-blockbuster-rival-to-netflix.html

This describes a hypothetical video streaming service offered by Dish Network under the Blockbuster brand (which it bought on the cheap recently). "The offering is expected to include movies from Starz LLC, said the person. Starz announced yesterday it had halted negotiations with Netflix to renew an online-viewing deal for next year." Well, everyone sort of expected Netflix and Starz to renew, too, now, didn't they? That's why Netflix took a dive on the announcement.

Here's a question from the peanut gallery: Why would Starz sign a deal with Dish Network's streaming service? Any amount of money they could extract from them could probably have been matched by Netflix (altho if Dish Network ponies up a half a billion then I guess I'll be proven wrong). More importantly, Dish Network is the primary competitor for DirecTV. Which traces back up to the same guy as the three numbered items listed above.

Here's some entertainment regarding the B&N deal:

http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2011/05/20/john-malone-cant-be-this-stupid.aspx

Seriously, I cannot be the only person who has put these pieces together, right? My question is, how much is it worth to be second or third in line for the portable media device of choice (definitely behind iPad, but it's expensive enough to be out of the running for a huge chunk of the market, never mind the rabid anti-Apple sentiment floating freely out there; if the Amazon tablet rolls out at 7 inches and $250 as techcrunch suggests, it'll be a tough competitor

http://techcrunch.com/2011/09/02/amazon-kindle-tablet/
).

Wait: this is a guy who made a ton of money owning things like Starz. I'm pretty sure he knows how to make a buck or three being second or third in line behind the premium choices.

_One Grave at a Time_, Jeaniene Frost (kindle)

A couple of points up front.

(1) This is book 6 in the main series and there are ancillary books as well. Don't start here.
(2) In addition to the universe of vampires-ghosts-ghouls-oh-my, the author and her protagonist are sincerely Xtian (or, at any rate, they quote scripture un-ironically).

Frost's books can be relied upon to supply pretty high quality sex and violence. As the series has progressed, her characters have developed intimacy other than sex-and-violence, which is a nice addition (and not just within dyads or between dyads). The theme in this book is Cat trying to be more optimistic, and it is developed effectively and sincerely and also, at times, hilariously (reasonably certain that's intentional and it worked well for me).

The main character, Cat (don't start with the feline nicknames of heroines in supernatural romance series. If you can't cope with that, you can't cope with everything that's going to come with those nicknames), was born a half-vampire (dad was a vamp, mom a human), and becomes a vampire partway into the series (I forget which entry and don't feel like tracking it down now -- you'll notice I'm relatively kind to authors for continuity errors? I work at it). Cat's uniqueness (she's the heroine, she has to be Special) is that she doesn't feed from humans; she feeds from other vampires. And what comes _with_ that is any special powers her source has -- temporarily. It allows Frost to play with a superpower per book (or so), without making Cat so powerful it's completely risible.

I'll keep reading.

I love pre-ordering on the kindle. I can just line up new entries in series I'm reading as I stumble across them and then they appear magically on my reader and I can quit reading whatever I'm currently obsessing about and have a good time for a couple hours. Pre-ordering paper copies was similar, but somehow this feels more ... magical. I'm sure I'll grow accustomed and take it for granted in another few years, and forget what it was like to live any other way.

Belated Reviews (kindle)

These will be short reviews.

_Arrival City: How the Largest Migration in History Is Reshaping Our World_, Doug Sanders

Sanders did a good job. He repeats himself, but that's okay. His thesis is simple: history had a lot of migrations from rural areas to urban areas; we're in the biggest and last of those (ever). He visited a _lot_ of places and was able to see how really shockingly not-up-to-our-standards housing can work well as part of a pathway to stability and prosperity. This is important; reading a book about how everywhere is too small, too grimy and doesn't have proper sewage disposal and thus it should all be torn down is Not Helpful. He also provided some tantalizing insight into why so many observers see communities with what look like upside down priorities to us (cable but no sewage disposal, say).

Read it. It isn't perfect, but it's close.

_Why the Garden Club Couldn't Save Youngstown: The Transformation of the Rust Belt_, Sean Safford

What a title! Safford compares Allentown, PA and Youngstown, OH, which seemed kind of similar but took different paths when steel and a bunch of manufacturing left in the late 1970s/early 1980s. He does network analysis on the towns, and I _think_ what he concluded was that if you were management? Elite? in Youngstown, you'd be hard pressed to tell whether you were at a party for a museum, the boy scouts or work -- you'd see exactly the same group of people in every case, whereas in Allentown, that was not at all the case.

Safford argues that something like initial conditions (settlement patterns in the towns' early histories) led to this situation. Basically, Allentown has very distinct subcommunities that didn't intermarry for a while; Youngstown was founded a little later by a somewhat more homogenous group. Also, Allentown's initial round of money went off and did cultural things, leaving a separate management class; Youngstown didn't, so when business dived, everything came down with it. Allentown has a secondary structure.

It's an interesting argument and worth thinking about. Safford's policy suggestions are not helpful, to the extent that they exist.

_Cities and Suburbs: New Metropolitan Realities in the US_, Bernadette Hanlon, John Rennie Short, Thomas J. Vicino

It's expensive and seems to be a textbook. The tables look better on the DX than the regular kindle, but they aren't tremendously helpful either way. Their photographs and the captions on the photographs are at times incomprehensible in an unintentionally funny way (like a picture of a kinda cool 1920ish bungalow -- falling down -- caption along the lines of "area of concentrated poverty". It's _one house_! To be fair, Figure 5.3 does show what might be a vacant lot next door. I'm sure it _is_ an area of concentrated poverty; photo was taken in Detroit in 2002.). This book presents what is probably the new/current consensus understanding of cities in the US (and elsewhere): multi-centered, regional, with a wide variety in density throughout. The worst poverty is _not_ located in the center (if you can even identify a singular "center") and the wealth is not entirely located in the "suburbs", some of which themselves behave like city cores. They spend some time on immigration and note that a lot of immigration into the US is direct-to-suburbs (which anyone who has just read _Arrival City_ already fully understands_. They provide a decent overview of the timeframe of flows of people from one part of the metropolis to another, and how that is influenced by race, class, larger regional and economic issues, etc.

It's fundamentally a little weak -- but it's a textbook. If I were reviewing it as a textbook, I'd say it was pretty good. If I were viewing this through an academic lens (an uncredentialed amateur, but still), it's mediocre. As trade non-fiction, it kinda sucks and it's expensive. If this is an area of intense interest to you, you don't really need this -- you can produce the framework through other reading. But if you're assigned this in a class, it's probably worthwhile.

There's a real possibility that the humorous captions were _intentionally_ humorous. This is most likely for things like Figure 11.4, which shows a big Caterpillar, a line of trees acting as a windbreak and some scraped ground, captioned "Not smart growth in Maryland". I'm reasonably certain that was supposed to be humorous.

One of the biggest problems with development/city/suburb/metropolis discussion is that participants usually sort themselves into the groups currently in contention, and they often at least act like the previous, no-longer-popular groups never existed. So you get summaries of the development of metropolitan areas that leap over really crucial quarter centuries or, worse, use nomenclature invented _later_ to describe something that planners were complicit in and used other terminology form. The most notable instance in this text is using Garreau's term "Greenfields" to describe what I believe to be the New Town movement. It sounds like carping, but it makes it harder to understand what happened and why -- and much easier to repeat errors.