No shame in cutting the cord, shame on cable companies failure to innovate

Like most people in my generation (I refuse to call us the “M” word), I take full advantage at the sheer amount of technology at our disposal. I admit to being an absolute glutton when it comes to consuming pop culture and content. Podcasts, YouTube series, movies and T.V. shows new and old — I’m sure I’ve done irreparable damage to my attention span, because I often find myself listening to a podcast while watching a YouTube video on my laptop, as an old Netflix favourite streams on the T.V.

Chances are I am an extreme outlier — just ask my wireless provider MTS. Their “unlimited data” package barely meets the demands of my ruthless mobile data consumption, as I get warned I’m approaching their monthly 15 GB cap around the 15th of each month. According to my phone, I’ve burned through 55.8 GB of data since Feb. 23.

(How they got away with ads offering “unlimited” LTE data — recently rebranded as “flat rate data”— only to throttle you down to 3G OR LESS once you’ve reached an arbitrary cap number is beyond me, but that’s best left for a different post. )

Given my insatiable data desire, I’m constantly on the search for more access to content. When Netflix came to Canada, I was an early adopter. When I learned how to get around the regional blocks with browser VPNs, I jumped for joy.

(QUICK NOTE: If you’re still using Hola Unblocker, stop right now! There are safer options)

But regional block runarounds exist in a legal grey area. Netflix doesn’t like it, as it clearly states in it’s terms and conditions:

You also agree not to: circumvent, remove, alter, deactivate, degrade or thwart any of the content protections in the Netflix service; use any robot, spider, scraper or other automated means to access the Netflix service

Remember those infamous anti-pirating messages that would play at the beginning of some DVDs, where they’d attempt to equate downloading to petty street crime (IT Crowd clip below for overdramatic effect)? Well the head of one of Canada’s biggest cable providers has recently come out with a similar stance against Canadians who use VPNs to access the American-version of Netflix.

During a keynote address Wednesday at the 2015 Canadian Telecom Summit, Bell Media’s new CEO Mary Ann Turcke told a story about how her daughter admitted to using a VPN to get access to American Netflix, telling the Toronto audience that her 15-year-old came up with her asking if she knew you could “hack” into U.S. Netflix and access all the shows not available to Canadians.

“She is 15 and she was stealing,” said Turcke. “Suffice to say, there is no more VPNing.”

Turcke used the anecdote to jump off to a bigger point about society’s lack of outrage over VPN, and the casual way in which Canadians have embraced the practise. A Forum Research telephone poll found that 1-in-3 English-speaking Netflix users admit to using VPNs to access region-blocked content.

“It has to become socially unacceptable to admit to another human being that you are VPNing into U.S. Netflix. Like throwing garbage out of your car window, you just don’t do it. We have to get engaged and tell people they’re stealing.”

Wow. I don’t really know where to start.

The thing that this cable company CEO is missing — or willfully ignorning — is the simplicity in which Netflix and other online streaming methods connect people to the content they want faster than ever before. We pay Netflix for their service, because it’s quick, it’s convenient and it simply works! But due to the strict copyright laws, shows and movies that we have access to through traditional media aren’t available to us.

So some brilliant minds on the Internet figure out a way to unlock American content for everyone. Yes, I want to binge watch 30 Rock and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia over and over again. I don’t understand the legal and copyright reasons why those shows and many others aren’t available north of the border, but I do understand that, with just a few quick clicks, suddenly they are.

Even if I’m watching something ‘for free’, I will always look for ways to financially support the content creators that I adore in other ways (If they come through town on a tour, sell merch, and even by buying DVDs/collectors editions ect.), because in the end I want to support the people making the shows I love. Netflix falls under that category with some of their fantastic original programming.

But the ‘middleman’ industry that Turcke represents — complete with awful customer service track records, a legacy of price gouging customers for things they don’t want, and a history of lobbying against net neutrality regulations that reflect the free and borderless online market — is the real reason why myself and thousands of others are cutting the cord and finding more convenient and cheaper alternatives to access the content we want.

Bell owns CTV, a TV channel who’s idea of creating Canadian content is Canuck versions of American reality TV shows (with shows like Corner Gas being a rare exception). Other than that, their offerings are nothing that I can’t stream online (The Daily Show, clips from Conan and the other late-night hosts), or shows that I would never bother to watch in the first place (hello Big Bang Theory). And I don’t see any shame in shunning a backwards industry that’s bottom line is trying to squeeze out every last penny they can.

Meanwhile, programmers online continue to innovate faster and better ways to stream and/or download content faster than ever. Bell can choose to remain stuck in the past, but for me and millions of other Canadians, it just doesn’t make sense to pretend that better options don’t exist online.

The reaction on social media to Turcke’s comments have been quite entertaining too, here are my favourites:

Before I wrap things up, I just wanted to reiterate some of the points I read on Twitter. Is it not super telling that the CEO of one of Canada’s biggest media companies, presumably with full access to all of Canadian cable’s offerings — including Bell’s recent attempt to cut into Netflix’s market share, CraveTV — was still more inclined to “steal” American Netflix? Instead of scolding her daughter, maybe Mary Ann could have asked what inclined her to do such?

Because if Bell’s new CEO is going to remain blind to the actual demands and desires of her own 15-year-old girl, a member of a potentially even MORE technologically addicted generation than my own, I’m feeling more and more comfortable with my decision to cut the cord and embrace the Internet.

 

 

 

We Will Remember Them…

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, Canadians from coast to coast stop what they are doing to remember the brave men and women who have sacrificed so much in defence of our country. We also acknowledge the men and women who are committed to protecting the rights and freedoms for future generations.

This year, I spent my Remembrance Day at the Minto Armouries at 969 St. Matthews Ave.

Members of the CF walking into the Minto Armouries ahead of Tuesday's Remembrance Day ceremonies
Members of the Canadian Forces walking up to the Minto Armouries ahead of Tuesday’s Remembrance Day ceremonies
A Staff Seargant takes roll call.
A Sergeant taking roll call.
A veteran and his service dog sit up in the viewing gallery.
A veteran and his service dog sit up in the viewing gallery.
A young boy and his father.
Young boy walks with his father.
Panoramic shot of the  Minto Armouries ahead of the Remembrance Day ceremonies.
Panoramic shot of the Minto Armouries ahead of the Remembrance Day ceremonies.
Canadian Forces members await marching orders as the ceremony draws to a close.
Canadian Forces members await marching orders as the ceremony draws to a close.
A candid moment of a Canadian military family.
Candid moment of a Canadian military family.

 

 

All photos were taken with my iPhone 5S.

“So, where are you from?”… Todd Barry: The Crowd Work Tour comedy special released on louisck.com

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Interacting with the crowd is the one thing that really intimidates me about attempting stand up. I could stand in front of a room of strangers and work through a practiced routine, but I dread the thought of a voice in the crowd cutting me off and derailing my train of thought. Of course, without the crowd I’d just be a crazy man telling jokes to his cat.

That would be really embarrassing.

So while I let my anxiety about talking with strangers keep me from going to an open mic to try out material, career comedian Todd Barry’s latest special is all crowd work, and available at Louis CK’s website for only $5.

The special follows Barry though a series of stops on his 2013 Crowd Work Tour up the west coast, starting at San Diego and finishing off in Anchorage. He hit the road with no prepared material, finding humour in random conversations in the crowd.

The special is available DRM-free on louisck.com, and is the first special of another comedian to be hosted by Louis CK’s website.  Louis CK famously made $1 million in 12 days after selling his special Live at the Beacon Theatre in 2011. The only other time Louis has hosted another comedian’s material through his site was in 2012, hosting Tig Notaro’s legendary 30-minute stand up set at Largo in Los Angeles days after finding out she had breast cancer. The special “Tig Notaro: Live” went to the top of the Billboard comedy album charts.

 

An evening with Bill Burr, and the loss of a comedy legend.

Last Thursday, I got to check out one of my favourite working comedians, Bill Burr. He came through Winnipeg as a part of a Canadian tour presented by Just For Laughs, along with his opening act Paul Virzi.

Virzi did a great job of warming up the crowd for Burr. I had not seen Virzi stand up before, but was pleased to find that his delivery style was very similar to Burr’s. He was a fantastic choice to join Burr on his tour, and I enjoyed his set.

Burr was amazing. With over 20 years of stand up experience under his belt, Burr was able to weave over an hour worth of material that covered such topics as ghosts, his new marriage and his musings on intolerance in society. Burr had me laughing so hard that tears rolled down my face, and that is no exaggeration. I get real sloppy and wet when I get caught up in a good laughing fit.

I bought tickets with Brett Madill and Tyler Penner, two of the funniest dudes I’ve met in CreComm. Both Brett and Tyler have experience on stage, unlike myself, so it was fun to hear an ‘insider’s opinion’ of the show on the walk back to the car. The three of us lucked out and were one of the first in line after the show to get a photo with Bill!

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FROM LEFT: Tyler Penner, Brett Madill, Bill Burr, and myself

 

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On Saturday, the comedy world lost David Brenner, who passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer at the age of 78.

Brenner first ventured into the world of professional stand up comedy in 1969. He made his television debut in 1971 on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He quickly became one of Carson’s favourite comedians, appearing on the show over 100 times, and becoming a frequent Tonight Show guest host. He was an influence for countless comedians, as illustrated by the outpouring of support that was shown.

I remember watching Brenner perform on television at the Just For Laughs comedy festival in Montreal. Those performances must have been from the 90s or early 2000s, and even decades into his career, he was still killing it on stage.

Here’s a clip of Brenner from his debut appearance on the Tonight Show:

 

 

 

Sargent & Victor & Me: A one-woman show by Debbie Patterson

This past Tuesday, the CreComm first-years were all tasked with going to see a new theatre production being put on at the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film at The University of Winnipeg. Sargent & Victor & Me is a one-woman play written and performed by Debbie Patterson, presented by Theatre Projects Manitoba. Patterson has multiple sclerosis, which has robbed her the use of her left leg. 

I described the play as a sort of theatrical documentary of sort. It’s at one time a deeply personal monologue (shared by Patterson, as Gillian, one of several characters in the play) about life with MS, and then Patterson seemlessly transitions into a different character. Patterson uses her medical condition as a metaphor to describe the decline of the once vibrant neighbourhood that has been largely taken over by gangs, drugs and violence. What makes it feel like a documentary is the knowledge that the dialogue for all the other characters in the play are based off of interviews that Patterson conducted with people who live around the infamous intersection of Sargent and Victor. The play is set in a food bank at the First Lutheran Church in Winnipeg’s West End, and the stages was decorated with large round tables, a few chairs, and boxes filled with food for hampers. 

Pretty much everything about the play was done wonderfully. The mood was set with music performed provided by John K Samson and Christine FellowsThe set design and lighting were carefully considered, and helped to lead the action and provide visual clues as to which character Patterson was channeling. Patterson’s performance, which I will be discussing in detail a little further down this page, was great. While some people I’ve talked to after the show said that the characters felt like broad stereotypes, I was most impressed at Patterson’s ability to really nail specific mannerisms that instantly told the audience which character she had moved to. 

I have some experience with theatre, both as a performer and as a member of the audience, but I had never seen a one-person show. In some ways, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I certainly wasn’t expecting to see such a big space for just one person to explore. And despite her physical limitations, Patterson and director Arne MacPherson did a great job of fully utilizing the space on stage. I was especially impressed with her character work, given that I’ve got some experience as an improviser attempting to create compelling characters only using your voice and physical mannerisms. 

Patterson spent months conducting interviews for this theatre piece. She does a really good job creating the characters on stage, but it isn’t until the very end of the play when a series of brief clips from the actual interview recordings are played that you realize just how spot on her acting was. One character, Theresa the 15-year-old gang member, could have almost been considered an over-the-top portrayal, until you hear the real Theresa’s voice and sniffs and realize that Patterson really took the time and preparation to get every little mannerism down.

The Sargent & Victor part of the play didn’t affect me too much. I’ve spent most of my life in Charleswood and the south end of the city and could probably count the number of times I’ve been in the vicinity of the intersection of Sargent Ave. and Victor St. on one hand. I could still relate to the character’s personal struggles with the state of the neighbourhood, but I was more drawn to Patterson’s own inclusion into the story.

I will admit that my knowledge on the toll that MS takes on the body is quite limited. I found Patterson to be a powerful performer, and was moved at several points during the show. The show offered a good balance between humourous moments and dramatic stories, and I was certainly drawn more towards the dramatic stories. Patterson’s ability to communicate the pain and frustration that comes with MS really hit home and left a lasting impression with me.

I was pleasantly surprised by Sargent & Victor & Me, and would recommend checking it out before it concludes it’s run at the Asper Centre on March 9.