Dead Red

I’ve been a Netflix member since 2004, and found a lot of value in the service since the disks-in-the-mail days of yore, when getting a livestream of Starz was just a weird freebie throw in.

But when I look at all the services I pay for each month — currently including HBO Max, Disney+, Apple TV+, Prime Video and now a free trial of Hulu — it’s the first one I’d cut.

No wonder Netflix is hurting. How did the one-time leader go wrong?

I think it’s death by a thousand cuts. Here are my pain points:

Netflix doesn’t integrate with Apple TV

I started my Hulu trial because I wanted to watch Community and it suddenly seemed to disappear from Prime Video but Apple suggested I watch it on Hulu. It was available to me through Netflix, but I didn’t know that! Even if I fall in love with something, if it’s not on what I think of as my TV front page. While Nintendo and a whole bunch of others beat out Apple TV (the device, not the app and not the service) for marketshare, it suggests to me Netflix’s attitude that was believing its prominence made it special seemingly blinded to its competition.

Netflix gave up on its “queue” for a “list”

In the old days, there was this moment of angry-turned-joy when something made it to the top of your queue and showed up in the mail so you watched it and found a new favorite. The move to a list, necessitated by the constant churn of the catalog due to streaming-right fights, went that joy was lost. It also turned Netflix from a “we’ve got everything” place for movie lovers to a “we’ve always got something to watch” place for people who just wanted flickering lights.

Netflix doesn’t show me good stuff to watch

At one time, Netflix was really interested in building a better recommendation engine until it wasn’t. Now I get trending stuff that doesn’t fit me. I can’t find good movies or TV to watch, there’s nothing that drives surprise and delight, and its recommendations suck. I’m aware of the big cultural moments (Squid Games, Stranger Things) but Netflix doesn’t seem interested in finding off-the-beaten-path stuff I might like.

Netflix has a shotgun approach to exclusives

I trust HBO to deliver great TV, and it has an amazing back catalog. Apple TV+ has also constantly delivered great shows that are at least worth trying out. Disney+ always seems to have a show I’d like to try (folks, Andor is really good, even if you don’t like Star Wars). I kept bumping into shows I wanted to try (The Bear, Only Murders in the Building) that were on Hulu and eventually game in. There’s nothing I’m excited about on Prime, but it fills the “other stuff” category for me and comes bolted on to other Amazon services that I pay for. I liked, but didn’t love, Stranger Things and felt the same about many other Netflix originals.

Netflix has overvalued itself in my life

I now pay $20 a month for Netflix because I want 4K. They’ve also tied the number of screens you can use at a time to that, which isn’t a big deal to me but feels cheap (we probably use two concurrently). Apple TV+ is $7, Hulu is $15 without ads, Disney+ is $11 and Amazon Prime is $15 and the video feels like an add-on to free shipping.

Lyz Lenz’s Departure from The Gazette

On Oct. 5, 2020, Lyz Lenz tweeted that The Gazette had “fired” her that morning. This is the email I sent to Executive Editor Zach Kucharski and Opinions Editor Todd Dorman.

Zack and Todd,

No doubt you’ve heard from a number of folks regarding Lyz Lenz’s departure from The Gazette. I wanted to express my concern to you both about this development, while acknowledging that I have little insight into why it may have occurred and that tweets are hardly a solid factual foundation on which to build a strong understanding.

I will miss Lyz’s attention, her reporting and her strong-and-sometimes-divisive voice. This is a loss for The Gazette‘s opinion pages.

But my larger concern is that the timing of her departure leads to the appearance that The Gazette is kowtowing to Republican Party and its political candidates in Iowa who made the unfortunate choice to refuse invitations to engage with your editorial board because of her columns or, perhaps more simply, the headlines they carried.

I suspect that is not the reasoning.

I hope The Gazette will offer its readers, subscribers and community some insight into the decision making, and will continue to cover our community with clear eyes and thoughtful commentary.

Yours, Nick Bergus

24 Hours After Caucusing, Nevada’s Results are Coming Slower Than Iowa’s Were. Why Won’t Nevada be a Punchline?

As some folks are pointing out, the results from the Nevada caucuses (results currently show 60% reported 24 hours later) are behind where Iowa’s were (about 62% reported after 24 hours) after a day, even with Nevada’s four-day early voting head start, but we’re not getting rending of cloth from the press. The Nevada Caucuses, even with a challenge from Pete Buttigieg’s campaign, won’t be labeled a disaster, debacle or worse.

Why?

I think it’s pretty simple.

Democrats in Nevada did a better job setting expectations than we did in Iowa.

When the Iowa Democratic Party said it would have results rolling out starting in the evening of the caucuses, media laid its plans, including live coverage. When, unexpectedly, there weren’t results to report, all the press had to report was the lack of results.

So it did.

In Nevada, they made no such promise.

Having failed to set realistic expectations, the IDP failed to fill the information gap so it was filled with freaking out and conjecture.

When a space exists between what people want to know and what knowledge is publicly available, there’s what I call an information gap. And that gap creates a vacuum that will be filled, if not with real information, then with conjecture.

The political press calls this punditry.

Remember how the IDP phone lines were being clogged by media asking for updates (and a bunch of 4chan assholes)? In a crisis, staying quiet and hoping it will blow over is always attractive to the people who have to talk to the press, but it rarely works out well.

Iowa’s results were supposed to be primetime programming. Nevada’s weren’t.

There’s a huge difference between what the press will do on a Monday night in primetime and what it wants in the middle of a Saturday afternoon.

Weekends are when you’ve got the B team on the anchor desk. The big Sunday stories were filed on Friday. The press and its audiences are out to dinner, watching sports or drinking.

Late Friday is the traditional time to dump news you don’t want covered. Saturday afternoon is a good day for voting, but a bad time for news coverage.

Monday night, in primetime, is high-viability, especially when you’ve got your A team all ready to talk about results from the first-in-the-nation contest.

Nevada has a clear winner and thus a story.

This is the most important one. “Media bias” isn’t left or right. It’s a bias towards narrative and conflict.

Bernie Sanders won first in Nevada and the AP called it pretty early. The story is now “Sanders is the true frontrunner for the nomination” while other campaigns fight it out for second place.

And the conflict piece has been nicely filled in, too, with anti-Bernie and pro-Bernie and anti-anti-Bernie factions fighting over if he can or can’t beat Trump and what needs to happen next for a non-Sanders candidate to get the nomination.

Media needs a narrative. Without a clear winner, Iowa’s was “disaster”. With a winner, which is kinda the point of these nominating contests, Nevada has a narrative.

Better tech writing

Brian Lam does technology writing differently at The Wirecutter. Instead of writing about every single dodad and gizmo, he writes “a list of great technology,” aiming to only tell readers what the best thing in a category is. Of course he wrote about the new iPhone:

These things are always the same. But better in small but meaningful ways. That’s all I remember from today’s news, really.

It’s also pretty much the same thing Apple says on their website and on the website of every other publication that writes about this stuff. It’s also pretty much what I wrote for the 4s and the 4 and the 3gs and the 3g, too. I feel despair when I am forced to write words that provide no service or additional value, but there’s a balancing act between saying what I think is useful and saying what people want to hear, so here we are.

Should you get one? If you want, sure.

His post is short, to the point, and not breathless, all of which is, sadly, refreshing in the world on online-gadget writing.

How I became Amazon’s pitchman for a 55-gallon drum of personal lubricant on Facebook

My career as a personal-lubricant pitchman started with a favorited tweet on Stellar that linked to Amazon where, for just $1,495, anyone could purchase a 55-gallon drum of Passion Natural water-based lubricant (and save 46 percent off list!).

“What are you going to do with all this lube?! Wrestling match? Biggest adult party ever?” the pitch for the 522-pound tub went. “If you are looking for a simply jaw-dropping amount of lube, Passion Natural Water-Based Lubricant is ready to get the fun started with this 55 gallon drum! With its superb formula you will have a natural feel that keeps you moist longer and also works great with all toy materials. Easily washes away with warm water and mild soap. You may never run out of lube again!”

While it isn’t eligible for free Amazon Prime shipping, freight is a reasonable $20.95. There were entertaining customer reviews, often the best part of the odd products for sale on Amazon, and, since it was Valentine’s Day, it was timely.

Amused, I posted it to Facebook with the line “A 55-gallon drum of lube on Amazon. For Valentine’s Day. And every day. For the rest of your life.” And then I went on with my life.

A week later, a friend posts a screen capture and tells me that my post has been showing up next to his news feed as a sponsored story, meaning Amazon is paying Facebook to highlight my link to a giant tub of personal lubricant.

Other people start reporting that they’re seeing it, too. A fellow roller derby referee. A former employee of a magazine I still write for. My co-worker’s wife. They’re not seeing just once, but regularly. Said one friend: “It has shown up as one on mine every single time I log in.”

I’m partially amused that Amazon is paying for this, but I’m also sorta annoyed. Of course Facebook is happily selling me out to advertisers. That’s its business. That’s what you sign up for when make an account.

But in the context of a sponsored story, some of the context in which it was a joke is lost, and I’ve started to wonder how many people now see me as the pitchman for a 55-gallon drum of lube.

Boxing and newspapers

Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, two long-time newspaper men with the Washington Post, heading into an ad break for their ESPN program, Pardon the Interruption, on Monday, May 23, 2011 [mp3]:

TK: Here’s whats over: boxing and newspapers.

MW: Yeah. Maybe not in that order.

TK: And horse racing.

MW: And horse racing!

Please explain this to me

The Daily is an iPad-only news source. The iPad runs iOS exclusively. iOS has never and likely will never run Flash. So why does The Daily have Flash-only video anywhere?

(Is video uploaded directly to Tumblr — as opposed to a YouTube embed — played back in Flash instead of something mobile-friendly?)

Notes on The Daily

I’ve been reading The Daily, the iPad-native magazine, for the last few weeks, at least flipping through it almost daily. I find it a nice take on tablet news reading, though not without frustrations or room for improvement—it is still version one after all.

Others have shared their thoughts on The Daily. Here are mine. (I also provided these to the staff there.)

  • I love the subtle little animations that appear on some pages. There isn’t too many or too few. Same with the subtle cues for where I can find more (turn for story, arrows down or right, for example).
  • There seems to be no way to turn off the startup sound. It plays even when the tablet is muted.
  • I’m often confused about what a “hot spot” might do or where it might take me. Sometimes more info comes in a pop-over. Other times, one whisks me off to a new place. This extends to links of all types. Is it going to kick me to a browser or iTunes or the App Store?
  • When tweeting a link, it would be helpful if the default text included The Daily‘s Twitter username, since the magazine’s username isn’t consistent across services, and the piece’s title. It would probably lead to more traffic from social, too, than the generic “check it out” text.
  • The app clearly pre-loads the next page of content, which is nice because I can move that way quickly or see the rest of a two-page photo without running into a seam. But I wish the app would leave the last page in its cache so I could just as quickly go back a page.
  • I’d love to see the carousel be more responsive. It remains laggy. The compressed JPGs look too low-resolution, too.
  • When The Daily crashes, it’s frustrating to have to go back to the beginning and find my place again. I wish it would save my place for when I returned. (This is particularly frustrating because of the carousel’s lagginess.)
  • The “viewed” indications on content are very helpful.
  • I haven’t found a way to access old issues. Even just being able to find old tables of contents would be a plus.
  • The stories seem to be the right length for the most part. I could do without the gossip stuff, but generally I feel like I can find and read the pieces I want. I would like to see more smart features, though — maybe one a day — on technology, food, world politics, etc. Something that wouldn’t be out of place in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Economist, etc. Just one would make the whole thing feel less fluffy and more substantial.
  • I wish the timers on the sudoku and the crossword didn’t start right away. I find it bizarrely stressful.
  • I would like to be able to select text for tweeting, quoting, etc. Pages with multiple stories are frustrating to share, too. I’m glad The Daily has made content available online for sharing purposes.
  • I do a lot of my long-form iPad reading through Instapaper. I wish The Daily had either a way to add pieces to Instapaper or an Instapaper/Readability-type reading view.
  • Even if I’ve downloaded the day’s issue, it take a while to get past the loading screen later.