It can be hard to keep up with just how many ways you can watch re-runs of Top Gear from six years ago, so here in alphabetical order are some of the notable gadgets, services and news events driving the most rapid period of change in the entertainment industry since the invention of the proscenium arch.
Completely digital entertainment is great because it allows you to enjoy nearly every song, episode, movie or book that has ever been created on your computer. The downside for a while was that most people had a TV that they bought so they could watch TV and/or movies on it — but now it’s far more convenient to do that on a computer. Apple TV allows you to have the best of both worlds. The convenience of organising your entertainment digitally, without moving the TV away from the hardware it deserves. That, after all, is why they don’t call it “short episodic movies you watch on your phone on a bus”.
A is also for Amazon, which is looking to follow in Netflix’s footsteps and start creating content for its own streaming service, some of which looks pretty good — looking at you, Transparent. The show won the Emmy Award for Best Comedy Series this year and is available on Stan in Australia.
That’s Brandis, George. The federal Attorney-General has been the battered figurehead of the Abbott government’s attempts to rein in piracy and give law enforcement broad powers to access telecommunications metadata. Both efforts have been dogged by a perceived lack of expertise on the part of the 57-year-old former lawyer. He has struggled to describe what metadata is, what aspects of it might be retained and to understand the push factors that contribute to higher levels of piracy in this country than might be present elsewhere. But he’s trying.
Google Chromecast is a lot like Apple TV, but without Apple TV’s ability to function as an independent computer on which you can access the iTunes store and other apps. It’ll put whatever’s on your laptop on your TV, though.
The Xbox One console very badly wants to be your one-stop entertainment solution. The issue is that we already have a bunch of other things — laptops, phones, tablets — that are better suited to that job because they don’t have to be plugged into a wall and a TV at the same time, but still have the ability run through a TV when you feel like it.
Dallas Buyers Club
Dallas Buyers Club LLC. The legal entity that owns the rights to Dallas Buyers Club is currently dragging internet service provider iiNet through the courts because it wants information about iiNet customers who obtained copies of the movie through piracy. The case is obviously interesting because of what it might mean for Australian pirates in the future, but also because it appears to have exposed some holes in the federal government’s proposed anti-piracy measures. Namely that you can avoid them entirely by being on a business plan with your ISP, which depending on your provider you can do at will or after you supply an ABN. Oh, and it also doesn’t cover mobile devices.
Sport is one of the biggest hurdles to breaking cable TV monopolies, but more on that later. The exciting thing about ESPN is that the network is actively taking steps to ease restrictions on the distribution of sport broadcasts. These include streaming content live and in full online and selling passes to coverage of certain sporting events like the Cricket World Cup. What impact this will have long-term or in Australia remains unclear, but any willingness from the big sports broadcasters to break away from their cable bundles is welcome news.
Foxtel is the best and worst of entertainment all at once. If price is no object, it has the biggest range of content contained in a box that will remember what shows you want to watch and hang onto them for you. Twenty years ago that would have been madness. What’s still maddening is the price. Foxtel knows you want it, it also knows that despite increasing competition — Stan, Netflix — for a lot of top-line shows and most sports, you don’t have anywhere else to turn. At least for the moment it still has us right where it wants us. What a beautiful monster.
Google’s store is much like anyone else’s, though without the division between apps and everything else that you find with the iTunes Store and the App Store. Especially when it comes to music it’s a welcome sign of the increased competition that has come to the Australian market in the last few years, along with other services like Spotify.
A US-based streaming service that is doing excellent business despite not branching out into production. Can be accessed from Australia using a VPN (see below).
The ISP that has been most vocal in its opposition of the federal government’s attempts to clamp down on piracy.
If you’re not already watching highlight clips of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight on YouTube you should be. After hosting The Daily Show in Jon Stewart’s absence in the middle of 2013, Oliver secured his own show on HBO, and has since been engaging in what is effectively a cyber-warfare campaign against ignorance of current events. It’s available in this country on the Comedy Channel, but if you don’t have Foxtel, the YouTube offering is quite substantial and includes the odd web exclusive.
Kim Dotcom is the two-metre-tall German now living in New Zealand who has spearheaded that country’s anti-copyright and internet freedom political movement after his wildly successful — if slightly illegal — streaming site Mega Upload was shut down by the authorities. Despite a wide base of popular support for the kinds of anti-surveillance, pro-freedom of expression sentiment espoused by Kim’s Internet Party and Australia’s own Pirate Party it remains to be seen if they will ever win representation.
Laptops are the centre of the entertainment universe. If you’re directing TV or a movie there’s a pretty good chance your masterpiece will end up being watched by most people on a 13-inch screen propped up on their knees in bed. You could argue that it’s more intimate than the huge cinema audiences of yesteryear, but you’d be lying to yourself.
The domination of the entertainment market by Foxtel in Australia continues to be the biggest barrier to lower prices and better accessibility. Even with Netflix on the horizon, Foxtel remains the biggest player and has used that position to lock up content, preventing new players from gaining a foothold.
The saviour commeth, and its name is Netflix. There have been stories about the arrival of Netflix in Australia for years, but the US streaming service and TV production powerhouse is arriving on March 24 with its flagship show House of Cards. The big question is if it can wrest control of top-shelf shows from Foxtel.
Orange Is The New Black
One of the first shows ever made by a streaming service has become one of the biggest shows on TV and is now filming its third season. It’s a powerful expression of how fast the industry can shift, as the American prison show’s success has seen several other streaming services become production companies (Amazon) and several production companies experiment with distribution (HBO, ESPN).
Presto is Foxtel’s TV-streaming service, and despite my early criticisms it’s very good. It has exclusive access to a lot of ABC content that isn’t available anywhere else other than the ABC — it’s worth noting that episodes don’t stay on iView forever — and probably has the best library of TV shows of any streaming service currently available in Australia. But it’s overpriced and it has no movies, which are very significant downsides. Even Stan has movies.
We debate the speed of internet connection a lot in this country, NBN v. no NBN, fibre to the node v. fibre to the home, should we be happy with an internet slower than most of the developed world, etc. But did you know that back in 2011 the UN declared access to the internet a fundamental human right, necessary for freedom of expression? Well, it did. In case you’re wondering, yes, I was stuck on Q for a really long time.
Whether or not telecommunication companies will have to hang onto data relating to your use of their networks and, if so, how much data they will have to store has been a subject of heated debate for most of the Abbott government’s term. As of last week the government’s proposed package, which would have telcos store data for two years, seems set to pass with the addition of some safeguards demanded by the ALP. Because something, something, something about national security. I’m still a little unclear on exactly where two years’ worth of 20 million (give or take) citizens’ data is going to be kept, but I’m sure Brandis has given that some thought.
Stan is the streaming service launched earlier this year by Fairfax and Nine. If you want to watch Better Call Saul as it airs in the US it’s your only option, but beyond that there are some real issues.
The Pirate Bay
Founded in 2003 by a Swedish anti-piracy group called The Piracy Bureau, The Pirate Bay has been one of the longest running and most influential caches of digital content and torrent files ever established. While Napster was widely credited with being the first large-scale distribution point for torrent files when it launched in the late ’90s, the dominance of The Pirate Bay has become more influential as piracy has taken huge slices of market from legitimate distribution. Despite being raided and shut down last year, the site is already back up and functioning.
This is an incredibly wide-ranging free trade agreement proposal that includes Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, the United States, Vietnam and six others. It covers a huge range of issues, but crucially for the purposes of this article it has been a vehicle for the US to push very hard for reforms in partner countries that would protect its intellectual property and copyrights. Should the treaty be finalised it could result in even more aggressive targeting of piracy in this country.
Did you know that if you have a business internet plan at your home your uploads don’t count towards your monthly usage? It will also mean the federal government’s proposed anti-piracy legislation will be powerless to stop you robbing Hollywood blind. You should also know that getting a business account isn’t as hard as you’d think; even the most diligent ISPs only require an ABN, which is really easy to get. I should know, I have one. Some other ISPs — like Internode — only require you to ask nicely.
Virtual private networks
VPNs allow you to digitally relocate your IP address, which is useful if you’re trying to hide serious criminal activity, or if you’re trying to watch Netflix in Australia. They’re a great tool for avoiding geoblocking and accessing legit services in areas where they are not offered. At the end of the day you’re still paying what you’re watching, so how illegal can it be?
One of the driving forces of innovation in entertainment is the desire to pay fewer parties less for the content that you are primarily responsible for creating. If you make a small, relatively cheap TV show and it’s successful, why should you pay a laundry list of producers and hangers-on? Broadcasting straight to the web removes a lot of those middlemen and keeps more of your profits, such as they are, in your pocket.
The internet, it has been said, is for porn. Interestingly, it seems that major porn sites are no longer satisfied with being relegated to the darker corners of the web, and have started behaving more like the multimillion-dollar businesses that they are. Pornhub erected a full-size billboard in New York’s Times Square late last year and even had a small choir perform in front of it. What a time to be alive.
YouTube is the best free entertainment resource ever created. Yes, it’s a virtual encyclopaedia of unusual cat behaviour, but it also has more channels of professionally produced content than most of the Western world’s cable companies combined. No matter what you’re into, there is someone on YouTube who has spent a huge portion of their working week putting together the best show they can on that topic. It’s the magic pudding of light entertainment. Always exactly what you want, never empty.
A summary of which this story is. How’s that for some metadata?
*This article was originally published at Daily Review