Netflix vs. Amazon: whose streams start faster?

Netflix’s streaming on demand service pretty much made me a TV watcher again. I haven’t had cable since the 90s, and hardly watch any broadcast TV. But with Netflix, having a pretty good variety of stuff that I can watch on my own schedule got me in front of the tube again.

Then, a couple of years ago, we signed up for Amazon Prime, mostly for the 2-day shipping it offers on most Amazon purchases. At the time, Amazon was mentioning access to their streaming video library almost as a toss-in for signing up with Prime. Now, of course, Amazon is pushing streaming video more aggressively to compete head-to-head with Netflix, acquiring lots of new programming and producing new shows as well.

Cable companies, of course, hate Netflix, because they are one of the leading reasons more and more people are cutting their cable subscriptions and just relying on cable providers for internet bandwidth. The industry calls Netflix an “over-the-top” service, because they are charging money to deliver service over the Internet provider’s bandwidth. Cable companies hate that.

And Netflix has been so successful, it now accounts for over a third of all downstream bandwidth usage during prime time. Cable companies REALLY hate that.

Over the past year or so, I have noticed that it seems to take much, much longer for Netflix’s shows to load than it used to. And when they do load, it is often at a crappy resolution. Since there is a lot of overlap between Netflix’s offerings and Amazon Prime’s offerings, when a Netflix show is taking forever to load, I will often check to see if Amazon Prime has the program. If it does, it always seems to load much, much faster than the same show on Netflix.

I’ve been meaning to document this for a while now. This morning, I did, as seen in the video above.

Bear in mind that this happened at 9am. At 9pm, the difference is much, much more pronounced.

Assuming viewers consume bandwidth to watch Amazon at a level comparable to Netflix, can we expect the cable companies to target Amazon’s streams for throttling? Maybe, but maybe not. Unlike Netflix, Amazon controls lots of internet infrastructure that may have value to the cable companies.

Netflix sleeper: Let the Fire Burn, a doc about the 1985 MOVE debacle

It’s interesting to watch a documentary about an event I remember reading about in the news. Invariably my perceptions of the event are revealed as superficial and colored by my own biases. So it was with “Let the Fire Burn,” a 2013 documentary produced and directed by Jason Osder and now available on Netflix I.V. The film covers the city of Philadelphia’s action to evict the group MOVE, a kind of back-to-nature urban charismatic cult, from a neighborhood row house, which resulted in the deaths of everyone in the house, including innocent children, and a raging fire that destroyed over 60 neighborhood homes. Comprised entirely of found footage, Let the Fire Burn doesn’t seem to want to foist conclusions on the viewer, aside from the obvious one that bombing a home and letting it burn while you know there are children inside is a craven, immoral law enforcement tactic. This film, along with Waco: The Rules of Engagement should be compulsory viewing for anyone in government tasked with confronting a messianic cult. Rule #1: when a group is predicated on the belief that the rest of the world is against them, don’t fuel their paranoia and sense of persecution. MOVE was far from blameless, but it’s easy to believe they became much more radicalized in response to violent, heavy-handed treatment as directed by the city government and police than they would have had they been left alone. 

Culture Creepiness: Real-life news people on Netflix's House of Cards

 

Roll over, Paddy.Score one for Paddy Chayefsky. Make that yet another one. Television news continues to approach a reality that more and more resembles the self-interested corporate free-for-all pitched at the lowest common denominator that Chayefsky foresaw in his prophetic screenplay for the 1976 film Network.

Nowhere is this more evident, to me, than in the increasing number of cameos by real-life TV news personalities (notice my avoidance of the word “journalists”) in movie or TV fiction. Where once this was a novelty, it is becoming more and more common. It’s reached critical mass in season 2 of Netflix’s irresistible political thriller House of Cards, showing how topsy-turvy this trope has become.

I mean, it’s not like this is something new. But now the floodgates have opened, and TV news men and women seem to be more eager than ever to play themselves in works of pure fiction.

For instance, it was only when I was “doing research” (read: Googling) for this post that I realized that the woman playing the insipid interviewer of the vice president’s wife in episode 4 was an actual TV journalist, CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield (whom I’d honestly never heard of before). At the time I saw the episode, I thought no respectable TV news person would ever really conduct themselves the way Banfield’s “character” does in the interview with actress Robin Wright’s character. Now I’m not so sure.

Overall the effect of these appearances is to reinforce a feeling that many have already had for a long time: that these people are more interested in pursuing and purveying sensationalist drama than information. Once it was easy to think these cameos were mostly intended to boost the verisimilitude of the host productions. Now it’s obvious that these TV pundits see them as opportunities to promote their own shows and “personal brands.”

The fact that they aren’t worried that these appearances harm their credibility, that they are just as eager in these shows to discuss fictional events with the same “gravitas” they reserve for actual current events, reveals their stark cynicism about the discernment of their viewers. The attitude seems to be, “Everyone already knows we’re just phony gasbags trying to earn ratings, the truth be damned.” How else to explain the prideful glee with which Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow—who devotes almost four minutes of screen time to it—trumpet their appearances in the clips below?

The last clip is a montage of House of Cards cameos from 12 real-life TV news people. Paddy would be too disgusted to gloat.

 

What blew up TWA Flight 800? New doc credibly asserts missile strike

Watch the official trailer at the end of this post.

I was browsing the documentaries on Netflix last night, checking to see if there was anything new and worthwhile that I hadn’t seen. I noticed there was a relatively recent film called “TWA Flight 800.” Huh, I thought to myself, isn’t that the one where the fuel tank supposedly blew up because of faulty wiring, but also the one where a bunch of people claimed they saw a missile in the air around the same time?

Yeah, that’s the one. 

Honest to God, I was just going to watch a few minutes to see if it was worth saving for later, and I stayed up watching the whole damned thing. 

As I’ve probably mentioned before, I am not a conspiracy theory guy. I just don’t think people can keep secrets forever. And this film convinces me that this view is correct. Because this was a conspiracy, and people aren’t keeping their mouths shut. 

Granted, a documentarian has a wealth of tools at his or her disposal to shape perceptions. Indeed, the documentarian who doesn’t use these tools will probably make a really boring film. But there are ways of shaping perception that reveal hidden truths, and there are ways of shaping perception that conceal and mislead. Do the film makers of “TWA Flight 800” have an agenda? Absolutely. But it’s hard to come away from watching the film without feeling that it does reveal hidden truths, and that the concealment and misleading has come from the official government account.

One thing that bolsters the film makers’ credibility are questions they don’t ask: They tell us that in addition to the National Transportation Safety Board—normally the lead investigative agency on air crashes—the FBI was heavily involved in the investigation from the get-go. The point is raised but the question of why this would be so is left for the viewer to ask. 

Similarly, the film focuses on bolstering the case that a missile—or missiles—brought down the plane. But the film makers spend almost no time on the question of whose missile it was or who actually fired it.

In news coverage of the event, to my recollection, any time witnesses who claimed to see a missile were mentioned, the coverage was slanted to convey the official line: that if they had seen a missile—which government sources assured us they hadn’t—then “the missile they didn’t see” was presumably a shoulder-fired missile that fell into the hands of terrorists. 

Leapin’ logic!

But because the film makers don’t ask the questions I mention above, I immediately asked and answered them myself:

Why was the FBI immediately and heavily involved? And if there was a missile, whose was it and who fired it? The most likely answer I came up with, given what the film tells us, is that the FBI was immediately involved because the U.S. military inadvertantly fired the missile, and the FBI was there to cover it up. 

“TWA Flight 800” is available on Netflix and Amazon Prime streaming, or viewable directly on Epix. You can get more info and sign a petition to reopen the investigation at the film’s website

 

Why Netflix is smart, haterz is stupid

For the life of me, I can’t quite figure out what people are so upset about Netflix’s move to separate their streaming video and DVD rent-by-mail servicesTalk about First World problems. Sheesh.

To those people who are whining because it may cost them more to rent movies, or cause them the inconveince of having two separate accounts—one for Netflix and one for Qwikster—I say, “Tough.” Go back to what you did before Netflix was around. What’s that you say? Right, you don’t want to. Because Netflix has entirely changed the way you acquire your little entertainments and you like it the way it is now.

But they invented the way it is now, not you. So they get to change it and charge more for it if they want to. Lots of people are already voting with their wallets. Either join them, or start your own company to revolutionize the market all over again. But please shut up.

To those people who are insisting that Netflix is making a poor business decision, I haven’t heard one valid reason why. Yeah, maybe they made the move in a ham-fisted way. Yeah, maybe they should’ve checked to see if the Twitter handle was available for their new brand.

But what they aren’t doing is following what I call the Slim Pickens’s Business Model:


Remove Slim from this picture and substitute the heads of the recorded music business at the dawn of the digital music revolution. This was their model: ride the fucker into the ground until the whole business blows up. This is the classic boardroom response to disruptive business models: stall, delay, sue, lobby—do anything but innovate to preserve your current income stream, even as it slows to a trickle. Then, BOOM! When reality finally hits, start grabbing for the scraps of what’s left. Ask Blockbuster how well this strategy worked when Netflix came along.

I ADMIRE what Netflix is doing. They are looking past the next quarter and the next fiscal year. They are inflicting short term hurt on themselves to focus on the long term. They are a disruptive business that sees major disruptions headed their way. And they understand that it’s better to be disrupted sooner rather than later.

Only time will tell if Netflix is really making the right move. But I say it’s better to jump off the bomb before it drops.

Here’s a good take on the issue from someone who seems to actually know what he’s talking about:

SplatF: 10 things to remember about Netflix while scratching your head about Qwikster

Inside baseball: HP and Netflix homepage re-dos

HP rolled out a new homepage. What interests me about it is how they’ve reduced the main top navigation to two links:

But that’s at the expense of a ginormous “mega drop-down”:

In essence, site nav is a modal pane. You could see it as an acknowledgment that a user who is looking for something on another page has already “mentally” left the current page. The big nav pane is a transitional layer between where you’ve been and where you’re going. 

Now here’s the new Netflix user homepage:

Nice and clean, n’est ce pas? What caught my attention here was a design meant to scale laterally—whether you have a 12” notebook or a 24” desktop monitor, it’ll handily scale to fit the width of your screen. The game here is to put as many videos in your face as possible. Many sites worry about losing what’s “below the fold.” Netflix said, hell, if we can’t do anything about making monitors longer, we can sure as hell take advantage of all those wide-ass monitors out there and grab more shelf space that way:

 

Johnny Cash, live and speeding

Just noticed that kinescopes of a 60s music program called Rainbow Quest are on Netflix. Pete Seeger hosted these seemingly spontaneous sessions of music and storytelling. One episode features old time country greats the Stanley Brothers with Doc Watson, while another stars seminal bluesmen Sonny Terry and Mississippi John Hurt. I watched part of the episode featuring June Carter and Johnny Cash and was amazed to see how wired Johnny was. Damn, he’d make a cup of coffee nervous! Check it out: 

New Netflix app shows movies, but doesn't mow lawn or give blowjobs

It’s gettin’ all Buck Rogers up in this bee-yotch.

The latest version of the Netflix iPhone app lets you watch instant view content on an iPhone. I think it’s only been possible on the iPad up to now.

And, as you can (kinda) see by the uber-meta-ironic screenshot, it looks great.

Continuing our train of thought on over-entitled users, there’s a plethora of bitchy comments in the app store, mostly because only the iPhone 4 lets you use the app to send video out to your TV. Hilarious.

DUDE, YOU HAVE AN ENTERTAINMENT VIEWING PLATFORM LOADED WITH AN ENTIRE TV/FILM LIBRARY IN YOUR POCKET. WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT?!

$130 a month because you can't wait for Dexter to come out on DVD?!

From the I Forget Everyone Is Not Like Me Dept:

NYT: The Sofa Wars: In the Living Room, Hooked on Pay TV

Pay TV subscriptions are going up?! We ditched cable some years ago for a lot of reasons, chief among them cost::crap ratio. Oh, but now there’s digital cable, so there’s hundreds of channels. With more crap. And lots of people hate the pay-for-everything-even-though-you-just-want-a-few-things pricing structure, but still go along. 

The really surprising thing is, after becoming a very occasional TV watcher in the years since ditching cable, Netflix instant view on Roku has turned me into a daily viewer again. It kinda fascinates me in an observing-myself-as-if-I-were-a-lab-rat way. What is it about this format that has brought me back to couch potato-hood? I can’t say for sure, but it has. Now every time I have to touch a DVD it feels like a chore, similar to how dealing with CDs felt when I started using iTunes. Electronic media on a physical object? Yuck.  

But no HBO shows on Netflix instant view, and that strategy is obviously paying off, for the cable services, if not for HBO itself.