Friday, September 14, 2012

All Paths Lead to Door Number 1

For a moment there I thought they were on to something great. I was on Hulu to watch an old TV show episode and they make you watch commercials. They began by giving me three thumbnails and asked me which commercial I wanted to see.

My first thought was that it was stupid—like asking me whether I wanted hemlock, arsenic or cyanide. Then I thought, at least this is a chance to pick something that could be worthwhile.

Because if you think about it, there are three major problems with TV commercials (and to an increasing extent, internet video ads). The first is that they break into whatever you're watching. But if you do it intelligently (there are obvious places where you can place a commercial break and not ruin the flow of the story), that problem can be overcome.

The second problem is that they're often moronic; but it's been that way since advertising began. There are some very bright, very clever people in advertising. Unfortunately, there are a hell of a lot of dumbasses in it, too.

But the killer, the worst one of all, is the irrelevent ad, the one you have to sit through knowing full your time is being completely wasted. That one drives me crazy because now something can be done about it; I could choose my commercial.

Example: during the show I watched, the regular commercials included these products: a) tampons (I'm a man, I don't use them); b) cat food (I don't have a cat); c) an insurance company that already has my business; and d) various kids' back-to-school stuff (I don't have kids).

There are plenty of businesses I wouldn't mind hearing from, and products I'd be interested to know more about.

Anyway, it turned out to be a false alarm. My three choices all turned out to be Chevy ads, even pitching the same thing. It would be like getting a choice of three Progressive Insurance commercials, all pushing their multiple-coverage discounts. Do I want to see Flo talking to the fat guy, or Flo talking to the bald guy, or Flo talking to the tattooed woman?

And then they wonder why sales are down.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Pulling It Out of Your Ass

Interesting article about the movie The Watch. They're not complimentary about the improv elements.

I can't blame them. Even though a lot of scripted comedy blows and ad libs are often far funnier than the script, that tends to happen most often for crap tv shows, particularly awards shows where the patter has been dumbed down so even the family dog can gets the joke.

But improv often doesn't work well in the long form. Theoretically anyway, when you write a script you actually structure the story; you can shape it, forge it, hone and sharpen it over time until it's at its most effective. With improve you're just winging it and there's no going back. So if the pacing is off, too bad; if someone says something that turns the plot in a different (not necessarily better) direction, so be it. The result isn't electricity, it's often just a meandering.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Buzz Around Indycar

This article, IndyCar Could Benefit by Will Power Not Winning Championship turns out to be just another thing about how under-rated Indycar racing is, and what needs to be done to correct it.

You can read the article yourself; needless to say I disagree on some points. Here are my main thoughts on the subject.

1. Nobody cares about the series championship. There are two: one for ovals and one for road courses. Nobody gives a frig about either. Nobody gave a frig about the overall drivers' championship before that. Unlike Formula 1 and NASCAR, the Indycar series has always been the Indianapolis 500 and "there are more races?"

Given an hour or so, I can name nearly all of the Indianapolis 500 winners from 1960 to date. I can hardly name any of the series champions. I know Franchitti won the last three mostly because I'm a Franchitti fan, and because it's been fun watching Will Power lose every year. I know Will Power has won none for the same reason. I keep forgetting that Franchitti won a fourth championship and that Helio has won none, even though I'm a fan of both. Without looking at a cheat sheet (I've got one open in another window) I can't tell you who won what how many times. And I'm an Indycar series fan.

The only thing interesting about the series championship is watching Will Power become the sport's version of Jim Kelly and the Buffalo Bills.

As I type this, the Baltimore race just ended. I'm generally not a conspiracy theorist but I definitely veer toward it when it comes to the "championships" in Indycar, because every year it seems like things just miraculously tighten up going into the last race. Ryan Hunter-Reay just won, and Will Power finished 5th, so the points standings tightened up between them. Nobody at Indycar wanted Power to mathematically eliminate RHR before the next (final) race in Fontana: that would mean the race itself would have to be interesting on its own, and a lot of Indycar races are like watching paint dry; at the end of the race the only noteworthy thing that comes out of it is the championship points standings.

What they need to do is: 2. Make each race more interesting on its own. You can compare Indycar to other sports, like baseball, in this respect: the best races are dynamic and the worst ones are static. You watch a football game and one team goes ahead 10-0 on the first two possessions, and the game ultimately ends 27-3. Even if you're a huge fan of the winning team, it's a snooze of a game. A lot of Indycar run that way.

They could do something about this by reworking the worst of their road courses to have more passing areas so that faster cars can get by the slower ones. As it is, far too many races end with fast cars being stuck behind slower ones because there are few places to pass and the acceleration difference between fast and slow isn't enough for to allow a fast overtake. The result is what Indycar fans derisively call a parade.

Instead, they come up with gimmicks like "Push-to-pass," which makes no sense when it's explained, is invisible to see on television, and doesn't really appear to do anything other than give the announcers another statistic to spout. "Briscoe has six more push-to-passes; Viso only has two!"

3. Make the thing available so more people can see it. There's a double-whammy on this one, as Indycar's TV package is split between two different companies: Disney (ABC and ESPN) and Comcast (NBC). If you don't have cable (that would be me) then you're limited only to the ABC broadcasts—and only those which ABC actually airs; if there's a problem like a rain-delay which makes the race go long and interfere with, say, the high-school water polo game that's already scheduled, they'll throw the Indycar race onto one of the many ESPN channels on cable. NBC only has the one venue, NBC Sports (formerly Versus), so things are less liquid when they have it.

The result is a mess of never really knowing when and where you can find the race, and God help you if there's some sort of problem (like a rain delay). DVRs would help, but all broadcasters seem to think we still live in 1970 and if they just wish it hard enough, it will be that way, so DVRs are frequently fooled. I don't know anyone who has a DVR and manages to get all of the races.

The Buzz Is that more people are watching online, but not if it's Indycar. Can you get it on your iPod or your iPad or your iPhone or even your iMac? No. Comcast pulled the plug on the online stream at without even offering a pay-per-view fee. Stupid? Not if it's 1970.

Of course there's radio, if you have XM/Sirius satellite radio. I know someone who does but there's no way I'm going to sit in their car for 3 hours to hear it. It appears that they've cut the audio streaming feed on, which now means there's no reason to go to for anything. How about the Indycar radio network? That appears to have gone with Sid Collins.

4. Advertise it with relevant products. Decades ago, Indycars used to be sponsored by automotive products: oil and gas and chemical additives and auto parts of all kinds. Some of these companies are still around and still sponsoring: Lucas is this generation's racing icon of my generation's STP. Yet the series sponsor is Izod, a clothing manufacturer with no discenerable target market, making commercials that appeal to—I don't know whom. The "Buzz" is to sell ring-tones and "Apps" and Facebook Likes even though the people who buy ring-tones are watching x-treme skate-boarding, the Apps people should be watching that commercial on their iPhone, not on their television, and nobody's yet bothered to figure out what a Facebook Like really does for anyone or anything other than Facebook itself. Try selling something to the people who actually watch the race.

If they can find it.

If they can stay awake through it.