Flash: the Wider Picture of an identy crisis

In this post I try to paint a bigger picture on the sneaky attack directed by major industry players to Adobe. Namely Apple, Google and Microsoft. There have been a number of seemingly unrelated news that will affect the status of Flash player as the prevalent media platform. Reasons for the upcoming struggle are varied but there are no bits of the overall Flash media platform left untargeted.

I will then get together some of the latest news and try to get the “Wider Picture”.

So, what makes an Internet media player an Internet Media Player Platform then?
In other words, a successful platform needs to establish itself on the Internet and WWW and be useful to distribute and enjoy multimedia content.

Nowadays, the most prevalent player is of course, Flash. But it did not used to be that way. Previously Windows Media Player was quite prevalent, fighting a war with QuickTime and Real Player, the later now pretty much being a thing of the past. Rhapsody notwithstanding.

But on what is Flash standing, really? In fact, it is standing on the pillars any other media playing architecture needs.

Media Player Architecture

These pillars can be listed as:

– An encoder, capable of live encoding
– A physical media container
– Support for at least one audio and video codec
– A live transmission system protocol
– For on-demand transmission we can assume HTTP is used for sanity
– A player runtime that can be distributed
– A container “plugin” or system to display the runtime on Web pages or on native apps
– Some kind of DRM system
– And finally, an established user base (or the whole thing is moot)

In the case of Adobe Flash, we can examine them:

– Encoder: check, Flash Media Encoder and others
– Physical format: .flv container format
– Video codec: On2 VP6 and lately H.264

Audio codec: MP3 and lately HE-AAC
– Live transmission: RTMP
– Player Runtime: the Flash runtime itself, capable of running ActionScript-generated bytecode
– Container: Flash Player Plugin
– DRM: indeed
– Established user base: near-ubiquity

All dots connect -and very well- in the case of Flash. In fact, some argue, myself included that lately Flash is just a glorified media player. There are a number of reasons of why this might be. My pet one is the following:

Take into consideration the enormous complexity of HTML+JS based Web App development, and that is the case even if you factor in the seemingly endless list of limitations and constraints imposed by the system. Let’s name some: poor support for local data storage, session-less basic protocol, slow character-based at that, massive rendering and composition constraints, limited animation support and a big etc. I do not need to continue.

Yeah, these are massive constraints. Bad as they are, they actually force on developers a set of paradigms that can be bent but not broken. A working set of variables that can be changed but not drastically. Constraints are sometimes design decisions, in fact, they are actually features if read from “outside the box”: rendering speed, readable, simple, reliable. Ah, the beauty of good design.

Flash, on the other hand, imposes far less of these constraints. Paradoxically, this enables hobbyist wannabe User Interface goons to go ahead and design fantastic-looking apps that look great but can’t be used. The demos look great and apps are demoed, sold, developed, deployed, suffered and quietly replaced by a faster, more serviceable JS-enabled app. I have seen this happening quite a few times myself. There you go. Read the lack of constraints from “outside the box” and you can get: slow, opaque, complex, crash-prone. Obviously if the UI goons are still in charge the simpler JS-enabled application will still be awful, but they can do less damage. But I digress.

Regardless of its shortcomings, Flash is today quite prevalent for video, “glorified media player” or not.

I would bet Google is not that happy that its YouTube video platform is Flash-based. I mean, one of your most strategic company assets relies completely on an external -and potentially competing- company???

This is okay for small fry, value-resellers and 99% of the companies out there, lest NIH syndrome bring your company down. So please don’t go out and start building your own microprocessors yet. One does not need to drink the OSS kool-aid to go on a limb and re-invent the wheel. Just keep an eye on your options, wink, wink. Just like any sane company should do.

But Google? You gotta be kidding. Hello?!? I am the ghost of the past and my name is WordPerfect. Gotcha.
Google excels and out of the box thinking, so eyes are kept at options wide open. Big time. There can be of course other, less obvious strategic concerns such as having viable options to provide media playback capabilities for Chrome-OS enabled devices.

Take another outta-box thinker, Apple. They surely are not happy about the Flash situation either. And well, they also seem to know what they are doing.

One obvious strategic concern is iPhone media playback both in and outside Web pages. Having Flash on the iPhone Safari browser would mean the Flash runtime ubiquity stretching even farther, leveling the media playback field even further. On the other hand, in the case of the iPhone, the video playback could be seen as collateral damage. The iPhone input capabilities paired to its powerful processing capabilities are in fact a good environment to deploy Flash on. I can see the minds of the developers: “great, we develop for the iPhone in the tried and true Adobe tool suite and we can deploy on Symbian, Android and WinMo in one go”. Wham! Flood of lowest-common denominator app, designed for wide market-share and running on a old, embedded-unfriendly runtime controlled by a third agent? You have to be kidding me again. Flash on the iPhone? It will not happen.

In the case of the iPhone, Apple knew they would shoot past the red waters of the pre-iPhone smartphone era into a blue sky. They also know that sky will darken, eventually. They have pressed their advantage in this emergent market. To paraphrase a former boss of mine: “Mobile will become THE platform”.

Apple is also concerned in the video playback in the desktop browser arena, even though that is perhaps less threatening to its plans. Ironically, in the case of Snow Leopard and its 64-bit Safari browser, Flash is running on a separate process so if you check it’s CPU usage it makes the plugin look really bad.

Microsoft is the uncle that has blown his family’s rich inheritance from a distant relative and then set fire to the barn. Windows Media used to be the leader video platform in the Web. They were readying themselves to obliterate MP3 from the market when YouTube struck with full force, playing Flash strengths: ubiquitous, multiplatform, hassle-free. I haven’t bothered to install Windows Media Player or it’s derivatives and I think I never will. I haven’t seen a .wma file in months and I don’t bother with the odd website that embeds WM, good riddance.

Pretty much everything in the consumer space seems to be a threat to MS lately: mobile, gaming, Web entertainment, set-top boxes, portable audio and a long et-cetera. Web and Internet playback are of course capital to its continued dominance of the consumer desktop, the real platform it stands on for its enterprise cas-cows. Distracted by Apple, Sony and the like, it forgot YouTube and Flash. Oh, and the official rival Google went ahead and bought them.

The battle lines are moving, can you spot them? To make them more obvious, we could do the mental exercise of going through the pillars that a video consumer architecture make and questioning what the aforementioned companies are doing about it:

– An encoder, capable of live encoding

In this case, pretty much all the companies have their own solution, plus the usual indies. Well, Google is not but I would not put it past them to be working on it. And there are always the OSS solutions, provided any licensing issues are cleared (hint, hint). Google thrives in the OSS environment and is quite well used in taking advantage of it -and of course contributing in turn-.

Although this is an important piece, it is far less visible to the consumer than any other pillars.

– A physical media container

Viable, established alternatives exist: the .MP4 physical container format, WMV to a lesser extent and the MPEG Transport Stream which in my opinion still has a lot of potential. All of them are well understood, well supported and most if not all are royalty-free. Both Apple and Microsoft are doing their best to keep their engines polished to support them. Google is again the elephant in the room.

IP on the .FLV physical container format is what Flash has on the plate to support this pillar.

– Support for at least one audio and video codec

This is where things get more interesting. The MPEG-4 Advanced Video Codec star, H.264 is gaining traction in the mobile arena thanks to the iPhone and other high-end phones. Apple is of course pushing hard on that and MPEG-4 on the iPhone will remain a point of resistance. Microsoft, as usual is pushing Windows Media as an alternative, specially with the Zune and WinMO, but it’s not looking that good.

But, hang on! Flash plays H.264 and AAC just perfectly thank you very much! The most likely reason for Adobe to adopt the codecs (and surely pay a steep fee to MPEG-LA) is that On2VP6 is showing it’s age and H.264 is really competitive. This means that big-profile clients like, erm, Google’s YouTube can optimise their video better and pay far less bandwidth costs (as they are already doing). Specially if you think big traffic like YouTube “big”. You can bet the small fry are also flocking to AVC Flash playback to save on costs. Vimeo anyone?

The blazing MPEG-4 codecs are like a double-edged sword to Adobe though. By adopting them Flash goes from a “glorified video player” to a “glorified MPEG-4 player”. The sharp edges of player interoperability are hidden within the package.

But, hang on! Google bought On2 Technologies! Uh-oh. Adobe doesn’t own the newest codecs and the old ones either. It is quite likely that the original deal between On2 and Adobe is long lived and contains many a safety blanket with a long period of exclusivity thrown in. Adobe have surely gone through the contracts inch by inch. Expiration clauses, opt-outs, etc.

Google made quite a big strategic acquisition here. Imagine, for a moment only, that they need a royalty-free codec to provide rich media playback for the Chrome OS. And imagine the exclusivity clause on the contract with Adobe expires, say, on the day of the Chrome OS release. And just go a little bit further: open up the IP of XXX with a suitable open license… There is more after the break.

But wait yet again! Isn’t VP6 old and not so competitive?!? Wouldn’t it take an army of extremely smart, dedicated and expensive researchers a lot of effort to improve it? Well, Google happens to have dozens of brilliant PhD-holding scientists who can also code that would be only too happy to take on such a challenge.

– A live transmission system protocol

We have mms:// languishing and rtsp:// not 100% successful, specially in comparison with rtmp:// and the clever workarounds found in competent Flash playback software such as Open Media Player. So that is another pillar that needs to be dealt with as no proper media playback system.

Apple has developed and proposed as a standard a streaming protocol that is pretty much HTTP. Check out the Akamai showcase. No firewall problems, no complicated delivery servers. Microsoft has also been busy on that side as well.

So Apple’s work is actually a proposed standard, ready for the taking of uh, the likes of Google. If Google were to implement http-based true streaming on YouTube, it would shave off a lot of costs on bandwith, infrastructure, etc.

Akamai gains would also be enormous benefit by simplifying its services and lowering its infrastructure costs by reducing the number of streaming architectures to support. Any other CDNs would as well, dragging the small fry with them.

– For on-demand transmission we can assume HTTP is used for sanity

A no-brainer, fully supported by pretty much anyone.

– A player runtime that can be distributed

The Flash runtime architecture and ActionScript 3 language are pretty mature now. Adobe Flash CS4 has unrivalled GUI design support and is in fact one of the company’s traditional strengths. In the meantime, Apple and Google’s efforts have concentrated on providing a viable and competitive runtime: Javascript.

Regardless of WebKit being adopted by Google on both the Chrome browser and Android, Google have gone ahead and built their own JS engine, V8. This ensures competition with SquirrelFish and will eventually drive the quality and speed of the engines forward. Add that to FireFox market share and MSIE 6 hopefully imminent demise and we have a viable playground for Javascript to become more stable and entrenched. In fact, the effect of these efforts on video playback can also be seen as “collateral” damage as a viable JS runtime environment is key to both Google and Apple strategies. This is specially true of Google and its online application strategy, key to its growth and long-term survival.

I am personally quite impressed by GWT and Google Wave, they are impressive engineering efforts. One could draw a parallel between AS3 plus the Flash Runtime and Java plus the Javascript runtime, with Javascript just being a simpler intermediate language for the different JIT JS runtimes to turn into native code. That is basically what the Adobe tech does, just pre-compiled. Pre-compiled JavaScript anyone?

The beauty of the GWT strategy is that Java coding tools are really mature and extremely powerful so we will see how that effort pays off. Isn’t it ironic that many Adobe tools are Java-based?

In the case of Google, using Java as the basis of Android and Eclipse as the basis of its development environment helps cement the Eclipse toolset as a powerful beacon. Regardless of the Java no-show on iPhone (another collateral), there is a subtle hint of renewed Java support by Apple, with the surprise appearance of the 32-bit Java 6 runtime in Snow Leopard. Ah, how IBM must be laughing at the strategic impact of its Eclipse gifts to the world.

Microsoft here is doing its copy-cat tactic, developing and then releasing Silverlight. Arguably, Silverlight’s implementation is more modern and neater than Flash and C# is probably a slightly better language. But it seems a “me-too” strategy and is simmetrically opposed to the Apple and Google strategies, which look more forward thinking to me.

In short, all players are coming up with powerful and viable alternatives to the AS3-Flash Runtime combo, supported on the shoulders of giants.

– A container “plugin” or system to be displayed on Web pages or on native apps

The ride gets bumpier here. It is no secret that both Apple and Google are champions of the upcoming HTML5 standard, helped in no small way by FireFox.

Enter the <VIDEO> tag in HTML5. There is little doubt that in the mobile browser arena the de-facto standard of video embedding will be through that harmless-looking tag, iPhone-thank-you very much. Apple is putting its money where its mouth is and has dozens of developers on WebKit, they will undoubtedly add support for <VIDEO> and this uniform single-source support will make it much more stable. Let’s go one vendor at a time: Google’s Android: no-brainer check, Symbian WebKit toting vendors: check, Opera: will have to follow suit, Symbian non-webkit browser vendors: going out of business anyway, Apple’s iPhone: check. Windows Mobile will either have to follow suit or be forced in a dark corner: either go on its own actively support its direct competitor Adobe with seamless Flash embedding. Microsoft is the underdog here, they will have to follow suit.

But wait, on mobile browsing Flash is already available as an alternative!

Yes, but it will never be available on the iPhone. With delicate irony the same pervasive multiplatform embedding support that made Flash-based video the king on desktop will be what hands it over to HTML5 on the mobile arena.

On the desktop things are slightly more complicated as Microsoft holds far more power with its large MSIE installed base, it’s not absolute power as it used to be but it can still stall and influence progress. The choices for MS are interesting: denying support for <VIDEO> completely would gain it time, defend WMV and stall Apple and Google’s advance, however, it would never be able to claim standards compliance. Microsoft has never cared for standards and has sometimes actively worked against them sometimes. However, forestalling <VIDEO> on the desktop would mean Flash is still king there, which doesn’t help Silverlight in any way. Would a weakened Flash pave the way for more Silverlight apps? Maybe, but it would be the final nail in WMV’s coffin, wouldn’t it? In any case, HTML5 is the standard and MS should at least feel some pressure and Flash continued dominance is not a rosy alternative either.

Another choice would be to grudginly support <VIDEO>, that would probably kill WMV off, inconvenience Adobe and hand the market to the other players.

More irony. It seems much hangs in the balance of Microsoft strategy here. But, besides mobile, there are two potential agent of pressure here, one is Firefox’s market-share growth which might continue and continue until MS is under 50%, difficult but not impossible. The other one is YouTube, Google needs to walk a fine line here, but as they have hinted to in the past, they are wiling to play hardball. A potential scenario would be to detect <VIDEO> enabled browsers and serve them the Flash-less video experience, perhaps add some better quality incentive or something. The immediately benefit for the user would be a better performing and smoother experience as there is no complex runtime to load that in the case of video playback doesn’t really add anything of value. This would help Firefox and other competing browsers grow even more marketshare.

Interesting conundrum: don’t support <VIDEO> to see MSIE drop it’s “standards support” badge and market share further eroded. Support <VIDEO> and see WMV weakened plus the general market browser interoperability increased. Or encourage Flash support and see Silverlight wither.

It seems MS is choosing option b) and supporting <VIDEO> as they seem to consider that option the least damaging to its plans. We’ll see.

– And finally, an established user base (or the whole thing is moot)

That is an interesting one, as Flash is well established in the desktop. However, also consider the combined Firefox, Safari and Chrome marketshare if they were to offer viable <VIDEO> implementations you would get an instant sizeable chunk of the market. Interesting.

In the mobile arena we have WebKit as the looming defacto standard. Again, instant market share.

Media Player Flash facing competition
In conclusion, powerful and determined players are preparing to fight the dominance of Adobe Flash in the Internet video market. The attack seems uncoordinated but all facets of Internet media playback are targeted from several directions, there are so many that I am having trouble drawing them all in one diagram. Powerful determined players like Google are entering the scene while established ones like Apple and Microsoft are re-entering the fray with renewed strength. Their strategies vary from conservative to novel thinking and blue sky reinvention. Adobe needs to start thinking alike or face a big identity crisis. Time to dump the stock?

Components on the server: an OSGi mini-project

The best way to start with OSGi on the server side is with a mini-project to help clarify concepts and workout the mechanics.

I have chosen a simple idea: build a volatile cache that stores objects. The interface with it is simple HTTP calls to perform usual operations: get, set, clear and get info. Additionally, Unit Testing will of course be used (but not Acceptance Testing in this case).

We start with building a component that serves as the controller for the system. It encapsulates any implementation details and answers to the system requests.

Read on for a short tutorial on how to setup the a first bundle, add an interface and some logging and fire up the appropriate OSGi environment.

Continue reading “Components on the server: an OSGi mini-project”

El mite de Brick Lane

Ja van tres vegades seguides que anem per la zona del mític Brick Lane i acabem sense sopar un curry.

El carrer és molt conegut per la gran quantitat de restaurants indis i la guia Timeout diu que per aquesta raó el carrer també rep el nom de “Banglatown“. La guia també avisa que “quantitat i qualitat no són el mateix” i que hi ha altres zones i restaurants molt millors.

És molt cert i alguns dels que he visitat han estat decepcionants, i fins i tot el Preem té dies variables, encara que l’experiència diu que dóna molts millors resultats si s’hi va a dinar i no a sopar.

Valen molt més la pena llocs com el meu nou preferit, el restaurant Gaylord, amb seus a diversos llocs del món, decoració “classicoide” i servei de qualitat. També interessa el Punjab, més senzillet però on també saben quedar bé, no us perdeu les especialitats de la cuina del nord de l’Índia així com els plats més clàssics. I finalment tenim una bona relació qualitat-preu -amb uns plats força picants-, el Sartaj. En aquest últim hi serveixen pa naan tamany “familiar”, només per si hi ha molta gana.

Nice curry!

Però bé, si finalment no ens movem de Brick Lane, sempre ens queda el The Big Chill Bar que hi ha allí mateix, que és genial.

Experiencing server-side OSGi with Equinox

There is currently a lot of buzz about the OSGi java component technology, also server-side. I have been playing -and working- with this interesting technology recently, mainly the Equinox server-side bundles that allow deployment of an OSGi environment in a java servlet environment.

A fundamental problem that this technology solves is being able to load an OSGi environment on a servlet server. That is a relatively costly operation that needs to be done only once and be persistent on the server in between client requests. After that point, state is maintained and bundles can be deployed and managed as needed. Creating, loading and destroying the environment for each request would just be unacceptable. One interesting functionality is then being able to serve client requests, specially HTTP requests, uploads, provide REST interfaces, etc.

Eclipse provides a number of projects to load the environment, register servlets, handle http requests, etc. Of particular interest is the ‘org.eclipse.equinox.servletbridge’ project, which initally starts the framework, loads the appropriate framework bundles, etc.

Looking at the code, you can start by checking out the main class, which has a number of interesting responsabilities:

 * The BridgeServlet provides a means to bridge the servlet and
OSGi runtimes. This class has 3 main responsibilities:
 * 1) Control the lifecycle of the associated FrameworkLauncher
in line with its own lifecycle
 * 2) Provide a servlet "hook" that allows all servlet requests
to be delegated to the registered servlet
 * 3) Provide means to manually control the framework lifecycle

I personally like classes that have a small set of responsabilities, but one can argue that the three are so related that they are expressions of the same one. The first responsability described is actually managing the lifecycle of the OSGi framework FrameworkLauncher class.

Basically, the Servlet Container will load the bridge web application, create an instance of ServletBridge and call its init method (defined by the HttpServlet interface which it implements). In that method the OSGi environment will be created and loaded by the following code:

frameworkStarted = true;

The attribute ‘framework’ is an instance of the ‘FrameworkLauncher’ class, which encapsulates the OSGi environment management logic. The ‘init’ method pulls information from the servlet configuration (such as the name of the ‘WEB-INF’ folder) and calls an overloaded empty init method that could be exploited by specialised subclasses (more on this later).

After that, the framework is “deployed”. The method in question declares the following contract:

* deploy is used to move the OSGi framework libraries into a location
   suitable for execution.
* The default behavior is to copy the contents of the webapp's
   WEB-INF/eclipse directory to the webapp's temp directory.

And that’s right, the code is quite straightforward and goes along the lines of:

File servletTemp = (File) context.getAttribute("javax.servlet.context.tempdir");
platformDirectory = new File(servletTemp, "eclipse");
if (!platformDirectory.exists()) {
File plugins = new File(platformDirectory, "plugins");
copyResource(resourceBase + "plugins/", plugins);

Which copies the bundles you want to deploy onto the OSGi environment onto the Servlet Container temporary folder (the ‘work’ folder in the case of Apache Tomcat).

After that the framework is started, reading .ini configuration options, command line switches, bundle list, run levels and so forth. We have not been able to get bundles started automatically unless we specify the bundle filename, complete with ‘.jar’ extension and all. One interesting option is the ability to fire up a standard OSGi console that uses the STDIN/OUT of the Servlet Container process.

Using the very same servlet bridge, there are a number of URLs that can be hit do control the framework, start, stop, undeploy, etc.

After that, one can register servlets as extension points or listen for services named “org.osgi.service.http.HttpService” and adding servlets with code going along these lines:

public Object addingService(ServiceReference reference) {
	HttpService httpService = (HttpService) context.getService(reference);
	httpService.registerServlet(url, servlet, null, null);

All is well and good. However, in working with the bridge code we have found a glitch in the startup code. Whenever the bridge app is started anew, it does the framework deployment and startup as expected but if there are any bundles that have any changes they will not be read by the environment unless the redeploy url is hit. This is fine in development environments but not on production, where you want to keep things  as smooth as possible.

Behold the power of OSS, we took a look at the code and submitted a bug entry complete with a working patch that fixes the problem. It is not pretty but it works (it has some code duplication).

Server-side OSGi is proving to be the place to be, or at least it is quite promising. Give it a try.

L’Enginyeria Informàtica aturada???

M’he quedat sense paraules en llegir la notícia que el Govern Espanyol encara no ha publicat les fitxes de competències per les enginyeries informàtiques. Informàtica és doncs l’única enginyeria que no en té de cara al procés de regularització de Bolonya. A més, sembla ser que algunes de les competències més pròpies de l’enginyeria del software s’han afegit a les competències de les enginyeries de telecomunicacions.

Aturada el 19 de novembre: per una Informàtica digna
Aturada el 19 de novembre: per una Informàtica digna

Es pot trobar més informació al blog AI2 i a la pàgina de la convocatòria de vaga de Huelga Informatica. També hi ha un post interessant “Bolonya per dummies“, on el tema està molt ben explicat i resumit tot i que no estic d’acord amb la valoració que en fa l’autor. Obligatòria lectura ponderada dels diversos comentaris.

Probablement el dia 19 seré a Barcelona i de bon gust em sumaré a la convocatòria i les accions que siguin pertinents.

A Fistful of Fandango

One amazing thing about London is the sheer amount of musical activity that takes place every other day. One only needs to glance at TimeOut, check out the usual pub where they do regular gigs or just randomly amble around at dusk and crash into any music venue.

Recently, A Fistful of Fandango was organised by the indie guys at Club Fandango, which regularly do indie gigs at several venues. Actually, I find the their website slightly overwhelming with so many artists and information. The gig in question was a part of a series, with the girl duet Robots in Disguise as the main band in that particular night.

Quite a few surprises there, the Black Affair singer plus supporting guys  were quite nice. Very spontaneous, did sound well rehearsed and serious. A pity it was so dark on the stage you could barely see them, one can only imagine they are actually looking for that image. They felt quite at ease if a bit too shy and the audience didn’t seem to understand. Perhaps seeing a little bit more of the performing artists would have helped. Anyway, sweet enough to be left wanting more of these dark sounds. Well, what else can be said of a guy who’s traveled more than 16,000 miles on top of a camel?

Slagsmalsklubben was nice as well, funny with good humored character. Check them out!

Robots in Disguise was somewhat of a disappointment. The female duet overflows with potential but they looked and did sound too ahead of themselves, nervous and thinking rather than playing. Seemingly worried about their customes rather than their performance. Actually, the supporting drummer seemed the only one who was enjoying himself and did put a a lot of effort into the gig. Learn from Black Affair girls! Though the lines to engage the public were quite good, rehearshed or not…

Les generacions de l’audiovisual es troben a Edinburg

S’ha celebrat recentment a Edinburg el MediaGuardian International Television Festival. Encara que el nom esmenti “television”, abarca també tot l’univers de l’audiovisual, també anomenat “media”.

Entre els “piulantes” d’aquesta i altres edicions podem trobar el Rupert Murdoch, el seu fill James Murdoch, de la News Corporation, l’Al Gore, diversos personatges de la BBC, Skype, UKTv, ITV, Al Jazeera, etc.

Com era d’esperar, el rotatiu intern de la BBC, l’Ariel, se n’ha fet ressò en portada. Es parla de moltes coses, com per exemple el control sobre els èxits de BBC Worldwide i el seu impacte en el mercat audiovisual, amb crítiques desde diversos sectors, el parlament, Endemol UK, etc. Sorprenent la contribució del director de TV de Channel 4, defensant la branca comercial de la corporació anglesa i afegint que la BBC “rep bastonades per no explotar prou la seva marca arreu del món i patacades si ho fa bé”.

M’ha cridat l’atenció una de les seccions especials dedicades al festival, que parla de l’impacte del vídeo sota demanda (VOD) en els media i com fa que la gent del “mundillo” es replantegi les coses (literalment “think differently”).

Simon Nelson de la BBC, comenta que esta molt interessat en continguts que puguin arribar a l’audiència sense haver de passar pel “dossier” de programa de TV convencional. Aquests continguts i els que generen els propis usuaris tenen èxit si s’en fa ressò i s’obliden si no tenen qualitat, sense passar per la “graella” televisiva.

Kangaroo, l’oferta de TV per IP en la que treballa l’Ashley Highfield, va participar activament en el debat. El treball conjunt de BBC Worldwide, ITV i Channel4 tindrà 10.000 hores de programació el dia del seu llançament, i estan buscant continguts “addicionals” als programes tradicionals per fer la seva oferta més atractiva. És curiós com tres “rivals” d’aquest nivell s’ajunten per anar tots a una en aquest mercat. Si la plataforma tira endavant serà més fàcil ser-hi que no pas estar fora. D’entrada sembla un bon complement pel servei gratuït de la BBC iPlayer.

Malgrat que Nelson va comentar que la TV seqüencial tant la generalista com la especialitzada tenen un paper molt important en presentar continguts nous a les audiències. La gent necessita accedir a les novetats per formar-se una opinió. Malgrat això, el de la BBC va afegir que el nou escenari del contingut audiovisual sota demanda representa una pèrdua d’influència pels commissioners, és a dir, les persones i productors que encarreguen programes als equips corresponents. Va subratllar que la majoria tenim una manera de pensar curiosa: “mira, aquí tenim una cosa nova, això vol dir que lo vell morirà”. Reflexió tòpica però interessant, l’aparició del vídeo sota demanda no significa l’acabament de la televisió seqüencial, però si la seva evolució.

Idea que no va agradar al consultor Nigel Walley, que comentava que l'”era multicanal s’acaba”, que no calen tants canals si tenim bons PVRs i bons serveis sota demanda. En part també es veu clar el seu raonament, perquè necessitem tants canals si podem gravar o descarregar el que més interessa?

Qui té la raó? Segurament tots i cap. Posats a fer futurologia, mirem al present. Una de les poques lliçons que han sortit de la revolució de la Web és “equivoca’t, però fes-ho aviat, sovint i barat“. Amb aquest mantra molta gent s’ha fet milionària, sobretot als USA. Com podem aplicar aquesta experiència al món de l’audiovisual? De moltes maneres, per exemple, en el cas de continguts destinats exclusivament a Internet, perquè no agafem un equip de dos o tres persones i ens posem a fer rodatges ràpids? Fem un guió en un dia, el rodatje en un altre i la postproducció en el tercer. Si no funciona agafem una altra idea. Si funciona tornem a fer un cicle de 3 dies, i hi tornem un altre cop. Què passa si ho fem en 2 dies en comptes de tres?

Tampoc caiguem en sonar com un manifest en favor del cinema més artístic, però les eines d’avui ens donen una agilitat de mitjans i preus que no tenen precedent, s’està aprofitant al màxim? Si el contingut resultant és aspre i espontani, doncs millor. I de fet, per molt ràpid que es faci, serà un contingut infinitament millor que el 95% del que hi ha a YouTube, no?

Happy simple birthday

Some people love birthdays, some dislike them, others simply ignore them. Regardless, they happen and will continue happening. We might as well enjoy them, yeah?

My birthday was quite recently and as is quite usual with people that were born during summer periods, I was away from home on holidays.

I happened to be spending a few days in Eivissa, one of my favourite places to hang out and relax. In my opinion,  and contrary to what many people thing, the island has many interesting sides that do not have much to do with its partying fame.

So, say it is your birthday and…

You enjoy a delicious curry that reminds you of eastern London in the Ancient People restaurant, away from the bustling town center. Sit at the bar while sipping a cold Cobra beer, then discuss with the owner the level of hotness of their spicy chicken Madras, “It’s like London, you know”. Amazing rice comes together with quite decent curry and large nan bread and the moments drag on until the mango lassi is there to help you end them in style.

You get some unexpected calls from loved ones far away. Those are always welcome.

You taste a great ‘paella mixta’ in one of my preferred eating venues ever, the great Ca Na Ribes, in a lovely street of the Santa Eulàlia town. While you wait for the main course, you have a nice healthy salad and you eat as much “all i oli” sauce on traditional balearic-style bread as you can. The restaurant is decorated in a way that recalls a sparse forest, with plenty of creeping plants and many overhanging greenery. The peaceful and uncompromising atmosphere are nice complements to excellent food.

Paella Ca Na Ribes

You unwrap some presents that you kept unopened in your luggage. The temptation to open them before their time is not easy to overcome but you prevail. You really get two gifts, one on the day you are given the present and one on the day you open it, at the same price!

You thrive in the calm company of old friends, of the kind that is never completely lost and every encounter is lavender fresh. Discussion stretches for hours, like the equally welcome silences, which are followed by politics, sports, technology, entertainment, gossip, food, girls, friends, music, servers, jokes, restaurants, travel, places, work, languages, anecdotes, computers, synonyms, poetry, lyrics, comedy, hobbies, adventure, the past, the present and the future. After that perhaps some quiet and finish it off with a jog, hopping around the convenient urban obstacles of Vila town.

You relax with the excellent service in the Nanking, a chinese food refuge where cold Catalan beer is mixed with simple oriental dishes. While eating spring rolls you idly watch the night time workers order stuff to go and wait patiently, thinking of the long shift ahead. The staff welcome clientele with a smile and local elder men eat alone while leafing the paper and re-reading the sports sections. The hubhub of the streets just below is well forgotten now.

You doze in the amazing Ses Salines beach, just past the salty flats, stopping near Sa Trinxa to bathe in the fiery sun and balm yourself in the cool chill out music that oozes out of the seaside bar. Local waitresses speak to you in fluid Catalan and seem to merge against the creamy sand, they belong there. Cold heinekens sweat condensation in the heat and reflect the black-clad staff girls’ thin frames while they hop from client to client, occasionally barking rapid-fire chatter amongst themselves. Time drags on and on.

You remember days past, recalling times more than ten years gone. Can’t believe college is finished and many projects are now complete. So many things have been said and done. Can’t believe who isn’t here with us anymore and pleasantly surprised at who is still with us. In the short hours my birthday is well over, the sun is up and I just take a photo. Why not? Simple tastes are better.

Eivissa sun

Who says birthdays are boring? ^_^

Crisi, quina crisi?

Resulta curiós venir a la península i sentir parlar de la “crisi”. La visió aquí és molt més catastrofista que a UK. Sembla que l’impacte de la política del “totxo” té molta més incidència i la caiguda és de més amunt.

Mentrestant, la directoria de finances de la BBC comenta en el diari Ariel que s’han reduït les despeses del grup en uns 347M de lliures, només 8 milions per sota de l’objectiu previst. Fins ara s’ha aconseguit una rebaixa en el que es gasta el grup de fins a un 10%. L’objectiu pels pròxims anys és rebaixar el cost un 3% anual.

A la vegada, a la branca comercial de BBC Worldwide augmenten els beneficis fins a 117.7 milions de lliures. Segons es comenta a l’Ariel, l’experiència a Worlwide ens diu que durant una desacceleració econòmica la gent és queda més a casa i consumeix més contingut audiovisual i interactiu. Si ara els ingressos totals s’acosten als mil milions, doncs tot això que hi haurà.

Bé, no tot són bones notícies per la British Broadcasting Corporation, la inflació anual a UK s’espera que sigui d’un 5%, mentres que la licence fee només augmentarà un 3% aquest any i un 2% els vinents. Això vol dir que la corporació veurà efectivament reduït de forma significativa el seu poder de gastar diners en els pròxims anys.

Aquí és on hi entren els moviments de fitxes (entre d’altres) que hem comentat, reducció de la despesa en 3 punts més un creixement real i previst en els ingressos que fa la BBC via la seva branca comercial. Això s’uneix a altres moviments estratègics com la reducció i restructuració de la plantilla, unficació de redaccions, auditories realitzades pel BBC Trust, acomiadaments selectius d’executius en casos justificats, etc.

Espasa de Damocles

Avui en dia ja és un tòpic parlar dels grans canvis en el sector audiovisual, la crisi dels models actuals és una realitat i una ombra que plana sobre el sector, tant en la seva vessant privada com en la pública. La BBC no n’està exempta ni molt menys, però la meva sensació és que ja s’està preparant amb antel·lació per quan l’espasa de Damocles caigui sobre els nostres caps. L’anticipació sembla una millor estratègia que esperar a veure-les venir i a veure que fan els altres. Estem avisats!