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Critic's/Business Notes
Amazon Bets on Content in Deal for Twitch
By David Carr, The New York Times' 'Media Equation' Blog - Sep. 1, 2014

On Wednesday night, I spent time on Twitch.tv watching people watch people play StarCraft II, Call of Duty and League of Legends.

When you cover media, you get used to meta activities, but staring at my computer watching an audience watch others play streaming video games was a new level of remove. There were funny, eccentric grown-ups, but also a lot of teenage boys talking profane smack on headsets, often with corrosive rap spinning in the background, as they maneuvered through seemingly impenetrable game environments.

After surfing around for 90 minutes, I couldn’t help asking, is this really a thing?

Actually, Amazon believes it’s a $1.1 billion thing. Last Monday, the company announced it would buy Twitch, which surprised most industry observers because they thought Google had wrapped up a purchase. It surprised me because I had no idea what Twitch was.

My demographic hem is showing. I’ve always taken pride and interest in staying with the wave, swimming in a sea of devices, apps and new business models. But even as video games threaten to become bigger than Hollywood in terms of gross revenue, I’ve never caught the bug. Maybe if I had had sons instead of daughters, or taken more of an interest in Madden NFL rather than the actual N.F.L., I’d be in the know. I’m not, but I knew what I needed to do. I called Clark.

Clark is the 17-year-old son of friends of mine at our summer place. I have spent many hours there chatting with him about his custom-built gaming PC, which, he tells me, includes dual Asus GTX graphics processing units, 16 gigabytes of Crucial Ballistix Sport memory and extra cooling units to keep the beast from overheating while he is busy killing targets. He likes Twitch, of course.

“It’s a community, or really a bunch of communities within communities, organized around certain games,” he said.

So ... all these people gather online to listen to people discuss the games they are playing as they play them? “They don’t just talk about the games, they talk about themselves, too,” he said. “You learn stuff and you can see their faces, so you can see emotions and what makes them laugh.”

“It isn’t like TV,” he added. “In gaming, you are the character, you’re the one that that’s deciding.”

Twitch has built a platform that hosts live events akin to the N.F.L., the United States Open or the X Games — and it has the audience to show for it. Part of the magic is that on Twitch, you are not just watching other gamers, but hyper-talented digital warriors, the Peyton Mannings and Roger Federers of Counter-Strike and Minecraft.

From a standing start in 2011, Twitch garnered 55 million unique users in July who watched 155 billion minutes of gaming and has become the country’s fourth-largest user of Internet bandwidth.

Even the gamers on Twitch were surprised how much it was worth. I was watching someone named Sing_sing play Dota 2 — don’t ask, I couldn’t tell you — and he murmured to the people watching, “$970 million, I don’t even understand how that works,” referring to the cash portion of the purchase price. As he tried to destroy something called the Ancient, he added, “I guess it’s because the numbers keep growing and growing.”

They certainly do. According to The Wall Street Journal, last October, more people – 32 million — watched a championship for League of Legends, on various streaming services including Twitch, than saw the finales of “The Sopranos,” “24” and “Breaking Bad,” combined.

Amazon’s desire to outmaneuver both Google and Yahoo and get its hands on the controller at Twitch probably makes sense. Demographically, it’s a bit of a leap — Amazon’s user base looks more like me than the young people on Twitch, but then, that’s sort of the point. You have to build your next cohort of customers.

And after years of contenting itself as the biggest online retailer of hard goods, Amazon has made its media ambitions clear — part of its future lies in occupying screens of all sorts.

But finding a place in the media hierarchy among the traditional players and digital insurgents like Netflix that have a head start is a long, expensive grind. Just last week, Amazon unveiled a slate of five traditional television pilots with big names attached. But so far, the original programming, created for its Prime subscription service, hasn’t caught fire.

The economics of Twitch are compelling partly because it supplies its own content and audience, comparable to an oven that produces its own food. But it wouldn’t be streaming all that content to giant audiences if it didn’t get the technology right. People who marvel at the growth of Netflix would do well to remember that it cracked the code on the technology side of streaming before it ever competed for Emmys. Netflix caught on because the service worked.

Similarly, Twitch won in a space where others failed because it got the infrastructure right. Gaming is a bandwidth hog, and Twitch is able to host multiplayer games, large events and commentary because the company invested in at least 15 data centers jammed with servers. If that sounds familiar, keep in mind that Amazon became the dominant online retailer on Earth by using technological might to remove friction and frustration from the buying experience. No one has its hands on more cloud capacity than Amazon, so bolting Twitch into Amazon on the tech side — it will remain independently run — will allow it to scale without interruption.

Amazon has made its own investments in gaming, but the costly Twitch acquisition — the second-biggest in its history after the $1.2 billion it paid for Zappos in 2009 — positions the company in a complicated media future where traditional television series will compete for mindshare with game lords, shopping and makeup stars on YouTube as well as celebrities’ Instagram feeds.

There is a huge land grab for nontraditional models of programming. DreamWorks Animation bought AwesomenessTV, a popular YouTube channel, last year, and in March, Disney snatched up Maker Studios, a video supplier for YouTube, while Peter Chernin, formerly president of News Corporation, has invested in Crunchyroll, a streaming hub of anime. All of these deals are about content, but they are also a hedge, a way of exploring other production protocols that don’t involve prominent stars, agents and expensive producers.

Michael Frazzini, vice president for Amazon Games, framed the Twitch purchase in vivid, simple terms in an interview with Time magazine.

“I think it’s fairly safe to say at this point that on anything with a screen, games are the No. 1 or 2 activity,” he said.

Amazon sells those screens — the Kindle, Fire TV and Fire Phone — and buying Twitch, along with deals with HBO, Nickelodeon and other providers, means that it has the software assets — in this case, entertainment — to animate sales of those devices. You need look only at the role of iTunes in the development of iPods and then the iPhone to understand how a ready universe of desirable content can move units.

Say what you want about game nerds, there is clear value in owning so much screen time of a hard-to-reach demographic of young men. Even if I don’t get gaming, I am beginning to understand the larger game it represents.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/01/bu...ref=media&_r=0
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TV Notes
On The Air Tonight
TUESDAY Network Primetime/Late Night Options
(All shows are in HD unless noted; start times are ET. Network late night shows are preceded by late local news)

ABC:
8PM - The Story of Frozen: Making a Disney Animated Classic (Special)
9PM - Extreme Weight Loss (120 min.)
* * * *
11:35PM - Jimmy Kimmel Live! (Eva Longoria; Wiz Khalifa performs)
12:37AM - Nightline

CBS:
8PM - NCIS
(R - May 25)
9PM - NCIS
(R - Apr. 1)
10:01PM - NCIS: Los Angeles
(R - Apr. 29)
* * * *
11:35PM - Late Show with David Letterman (Luke Wilson; TV host Julie Chen; Lee Brice performs)
12:37AM - The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson (Carrot Top; actress Gwendoline Christie)

NBC:
8PM - Food Fighters
9PM - America's Got Talent: Semi Finals (120 min., LIVE)
* * * *
11:34PM - The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (Adam Levine; journalist Meredith Vieira; Maroon 5 performs)
12:36AM - Late Night with Seth Myers (Stephen Colbert; actress Amy Sedaris; TV personality Matthew Berry
1:37AM - Last Call With Carson Daly (TV hosts Brian Unger and Zane Lamprey; The Crystal Method performs; musical group Milagres)
(R - Apr. 10)

FOX:
8PM - Masterchef
(R - Sep. 1)
9PM - New Girl
(R - May 6)
9:30PM - The Mindy Project
(R - May 6)

PBS:
(check your local listing for starting time/programming)
8PM - Cuban Missile Crisis -- Three Men Go to War
(R - Oct. 23, 2012)
9PM - The Fidel Castro Tapes
10PM - Frontline: Frontline: Secret State of North Korea
(R - Jan. 14)

UNIVISION:
8PM - Mi Corazón Es Tuyo
9PM - Hasta El Fin del Mundo
10PM - La Malquerida

THE CW:
8PM - Arrow
(R - Apr. 23)
9PM - Supernatural
(R - Apr. 22)

TELEMUNDO:
8PM - Reina De Corazones
9PM - En Otra Piel
10PM - El Señor de los Cielos

COMEDY CENTRAL:
11PM - The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Author David Rose)
11:31PM - The Colbert Report (Mandy Patinkin)
12:01AM - At Midnight (Jon Daly; Nicole Byer; David Koechner)

TBS:
11PM - Conan (Allison Janney; Brett Gelman; comic Brooks Wheelan)
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TV Review
‘The Story of Frozen: Making a Disney Animated Classic’
By Brian Lowry, Variety.com - Sep. 1, 2014

What could easily play like another synergistic infomercial or glorified electronic press kit somehow trumps that with “The Story of Frozen: Making a Disney Animated Classic,” an ABC special touting its parent company’s valentine to warm the hearts of shareholders. Perhaps that’s because “Frozen” qualifies as a legitimate cultural phenomenon, plus the recollections of those involved – and how the film found its voice – are personal and enlightening enough to overcome the obvious fluff factor. Parents, in particular, should let their kids see the hard work underlying such an enterprise, since nothing here will spoil the magic.

For those unfamiliar with how labor-intensive the genre is, it’s stated right off the bat that the movie – now the highest-grossing animated film of all time – employed 600 people for 2 ½ years. More notable, though, are the contortions through which the story went before the signature song, “Let It Go,” “fundamentally changed the entire movie,” as Pixar/Disney animation mastermind John Lasseter put it, giving purpose and direction to the character of Elsa through that near-unavoidable anthem.

Narrated by Josh Gad, alter ego of the snowman Olaf, the special not surprisingly spends a fair amount of time with the stars, including Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell. But the producers (from an offshoot of ABC News, naturally) also have considerable access not just to the animators but all kinds of amusing details, including video of the artists frolicking in Jackson Hole, Wyo., in order to get the feel of animating snow; or how they used their own kids as inspiration for scenes involving the young princesses Elsa and Anna. There are other intriguing tidbits, like the fact “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?,” arguably the second-best song, nearly didn’t make it into the movie until a so-so test screening and several employees lobbied to reinstate it; or that animator Hyrum Osmond worked a small homage to his uncle, Donny, into one of the numbers.

Despite the concern that seeing the ice palace in unfinished form might demystify it, the effect even for small fry should rather be the opposite – heightening appreciation for the meticulous attention to detail that realized those soaring images. The same goes for heart-warming stuff about the movie’s global reach and its undeniably powerful hold over little girls, something co-director Jennifer Lee wryly notes will likely have to wait until those kids have grown up in order to fully comprehend why.

All of the major media conglomerates are periodically guilty of synergistic sins, and Disney — cross-collateralizing its parks, networks and merchandising apparatus — almost certainly indulges those impulses more than most. But even if “The Story of Frozen” (which includes plugs for future incarnations, among them an arc on ABC’s “Once Upon a Time,” along with teasing the upcoming movie “Big Hero 6”) helps with marketing and sells a few more DVDs, there’s enough justification to celebrate a title that truly earned the over-used designation “classic” to soothe a cynical brain – or maybe, melt a frozen heart.

Disclosure: My wife works for Disney, and my daughter has memorized the entire “Frozen” soundtrack.

'The Story of Frozen: Making a Disney Animated Classic'
(Special; ABC, Tue. Sept. 2, 8 p.m.)


http://variety.com/2014/tv/reviews/t...ic-1201294375/
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TV Notes
ABC's new anchor David Muir says evening news is part of the future and not a relic of the past
By David Hinckley, New York Daily News

David Muir, who takes over from Diane Sawyer as anchor of ABC’s “World News Tonight” on Tuesday, says there’s no way he’s inheriting a relic of TV’s past.

On the contrary, he says, the network evening news is a ticket to the future.

“I’ve heard people say it’s a dinosaur,” says Muir, 40, who has risen through the ABC ranks for a decade. “I think the 6:30 news is more important than ever.

“After you’ve been bombarded with news all day, this is where we put it all together and let you see it all for what it really is.”

It’s a package, he suggests, that doesn’t compete with 24/7 news, but complements it.

Constant news is just a fact of life today, says Muir, who often spends his commercial breaks responding to posts on Twitter.

“At ABC, all the walls in news have come down,” he says. “You don’t hold something any more to break it on the broadcast. You post it on abc.com and then we take the story forward.”

It’s time-consuming, he admits, but as a newsman he likes it.

“I can report from the field with a tiny camera and a laptop,” he says. “We’re more nimble now.”

He hopes this flexibility will enable him to escape one of the nagging side effects of being a primary news anchor: spending less time actually covering stories.

“I think ABC knows I want to continue to report,” he says. “I also would like to anchor from the location of major stories. I’ve seen over the years that you tell the story better if you’re there.

“I remember being in New Orleans after Katrina hearing people calling, ‘Help me,’ and wanting to slide down in the seat of my car, because it felt like I was invading their suffering.
\
“But I also know that our being there gave them a voice.”

He does have “wonderful” family and friends, Muir says, but he admits he’s rarely off the job.

“A huge part of my life is my job,” he says, “and that’s the highest compliment you can pay to any job. I’m so privileged to sit where Diane Sawyer and Peter Jennings sat.”

http://www.nydailynews.com/entertain...icle-1.1919266
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Technology/Critic's Notes
The Classical Crowd
The pleasures and frustrations of listening online.
By Alex Ross, NewYorker.com - Sep. 8, 2014 Issue

Recently, while moving my CD collection to new shelving, I struggled with feelings of obsolescence and futility. Why bother with space-devouring, planet-harming plastic objects when so much music can be had at the touch of a trackpad—on Spotify, Pandora, Beats Music, and other streaming services that rain sonic data from the virtual entity known as the Cloud? What is the point of having amassed, say, the complete symphonies of the Estonian composer Eduard Tubin (1905-82) when all eleven of them pop up on Spotify, albeit in random order? (When I searched for “Tubin” on the service, I was offered two movements of his Fourth Symphony, with the others appearing far down a list.) The tide has turned against the collector of recordings, not to mention the collector of books: what was once known as building a library is now considered hoarding. One is expected to banish all clutter and consume culture in a gleaming, empty room.

Yet I’m wedded to the wall of plastic. I like browsing the spines—Schnabel, Schnebel, Schnittke—and pulling out disks at random. Even in the age of Wikipedia, liner notes and opera librettos can be informative. (Not everything exists online: I tried and failed to find the libretto for Franz Schreker’s “Christophorus,” which begins with the lines “Her eyes—hot summer. / Her thinking—cool.”) I get a pang of nostalgia in seeing recordings that I bought almost thirty years ago, using money earned through an inept gardening business: the cover of Karajan’s Mahler Ninth bears the scratches of a dozen college-era moves. My working process as a critic revolves around a stack of disks that I call the Listen Again pile: recent releases that have jumped out of the crowd and demand attention. None of this happens as easily on the computer. I experience no nostalgia for the first music I downloaded, which appears to have been Justin Timberlake.

The idiosyncrasies of aging critics aside, there are legitimate questions about the aesthetics and the ethics of streaming. Spotify is notorious for its chaotic presentation of track data. One recording of the Beethoven Ninth is identified chiefly by the name of the soprano, Luba Orgonášová; I had to click again and scrutinize a stamp-size reproduction of the album cover to determine the name of the conductor, John Eliot Gardiner. A deeper issue is one of economic fairness. Spotify and Pandora have sparked protests from artists who find their royalty payments insultingly small. In 2012, the indie-rock musician Damon Krukowski reported that his former band Galaxie 500 received songwriting royalties of two hundredths of a cent for each play of its most popular track on Spotify, with performance royalties adding a pittance more. Spotify has assured critics that artists’ earnings will rise as more people subscribe. In other words, if you give us dominance, we will be more generous—a somewhat chilly proposition.

Such objections fall away in the case of institutions and ensembles that offer streaming audio and video of their own performances. Here the aim is simply to reach a broader audience and, perhaps, to make a little extra money from subscribers. The Glyndebourne Festival, the Bavarian State Opera, the Detroit Symphony, and the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics, among others, offer fairly high-quality streams; my favorite is Detroit’s, since it represents the try-anything spirit of an orchestra recovering from a brush with financial catastrophe. A good guide to this increasingly crowded landscape is Charles T. Downey, the proprietor of the arts blog Ionarts, who features dozens of audio and video links every Sunday: a recent edition included everything from Rameau’s “Les Boréades” in Aix-en-Provence to Steve Reich’s “The Desert Music” at the BBC Proms.

If I were a music-obsessed teen-ager today, I would probably be revelling in this endless feast, and dismissing the complaints of curmudgeons. No longer would I need to prop a tape recorder next to a transistor radio in order to capture Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony. The thousand-year history of classical music would be mine for the taking. But there is a downside to the glut of virtual product and the attendant plunge of prices. As the composer-arranger Van Dyke Parks has argued, in a recent essay for The Daily Beast, the streaming model favors superstars and conglomerates over workaday musicians and indie outfits. Its façade of infinite variety notwithstanding, it meshes neatly with the winner-take-all economy. And if it ever comes crashing down—streaming services have struggled to turn a profit—hoarding may return to fashion.

* * * *

My Listen Again pile currently contains a formidable new recording, from Deutsche Grammophon, of Strauss’s “Elektra,” with Christian Thielemann conducting fluidly and Evelyn Herlitzius slashing through the title role; a reissue of arias and cantatas by the seventeenth-century singer-composer Barbara Strozzi, recorded back in 2001 by the Milanese ensemble La Risonanza for the Glossa label; a two-CD set of whispery, meditative chamber works by the contemporary British composer Laurence Crane, from Another Timbre; a Naxos survey of intricately expressive harpsichord pieces by the Elizabethan courtier Ferdinando Richardson, with Glen Wilson performing; and “All the Things You Are,” a recital by the pianist Leon Fleisher, on Bridge. In each case, the physical object adds something to the experience, whether it’s Wilson’s erudite notes about Richardson (“He waited at the feet of Queen Elizabeth of famous memory” is a line from the composer’s epitaph) or a letter from the composer George Perle reproduced with Fleisher’s release (“My piano music is quirky and takes some getting used to”).

The Fleisher disk is the one I’ve listened to the most, nearly to the point of obsession. At the age of eighty-six, the pianist remains a musician of magisterial powers; this CD, containing music of Bach, Perle, Federico Mompou, Leon Kirchner, Dina Koston, George Gershwin, and Jerome Kern, is one of his finest hours on record. In the mid-nineteen-sixties, Fleisher began suffering from focal dystonia, and for several decades he lost the use of his right hand. Eventually, thanks to experimental treatments, he returned to playing with both hands, but he still gravitates toward the left-hand repertory, much of which was commissioned by the Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein, one of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s brothers, who lost an arm during the First World War. Fleisher has expanded that repertory further, and draws upon it in “All the Things You Are.”

The central work is Bach’s Chaconne in D Minor for violin, arranged as a left-hand piano exercise by Brahms. In a letter to Clara Schumann, Brahms told of his love for the Chaconne—“a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings”—and said that he enjoyed struggling in solitude to execute it with one hand, because “one does not always want to hear music actually played.” The miracle of Fleisher’s account is that, while he performs with astonishing dexterity, he retains that atmosphere of exploration, as if no one were listening. The most wrenching passage in the Chaconne comes toward the end, when, after an upward-striving, light-seeking section in D major, there is a shuddering collapse back into the minor. Here, as sonorous, multi-register figuration gives way to spare, confined lines, you may remember what you might have forgotten, that the pianist is using one hand, and that the impairment of the other has caused him much sorrow.

The remainder of the program extends the ruminative mood. Perle’s, Kirchner’s, and Koston’s pieces, all informed by Schoenbergian modernism, find a mysterious rapport with the bluesy chords of Gershwin and Kern. By the end, as Kern’s “All the Things You Are” unwinds at a last-call, closing-time tempo, we seem to be in some transcendent hotel lounge, with Bach and Brahms sequestered in a corner and Gershwin flitting about. Bridge Records, a family-run concern, has placed most of its releases on Spotify and other streaming services, and you can have equally intense encounters there. But only by buying the albums are you likely to help the label stay in business.

Alex Ross has been contributing to The New Yorker since 1993, and he became the magazine’s music critic in 1996.

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/20...lassical-cloud
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