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.

 

 

 

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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

 

* * * * * * *

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. 

 

 

Over nine hundred and ninety-nine farewells.

This week, we have been asked by our professors to blog about a book we were assigned to read in Journalism. Here we go:

A Thousand Farewells” is a work of non-fiction written by Palestinian-Canadian journalist Nahlah Ayed. Ayed chronicles her life, from her family’s humble beginnings travelling between the Middle East and Canada when Nahlah was a young girl, through to her career as a journalist with the CBC. The second half of the book is when things really start to pick up, as Ayed shares her experiences covering breaking news in the Middle East, including the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the Arab Spring protests that began in 2011.

Ayed offers her unique perspective on these major international events as a journalist who was on the ground talking with people directly affected by these conflicts, including some harrowing moments she endured herself.

Question time:

What works in this book? What does not work? Why?

What I thought worked best in this book was the second half of the book when she begins to describe her experiences covering the 2003 Iraq invasion and the Arab Spring.
She also talks about the difficulties and intolerance she has encountered as a female journalist working in the Middle East, which must make the prospect of heading into these volatile situations all the more risky.

I feel like the book could have included a bit more context, or back stories to describe the causes behind some of these conflicts. At times, it seems as if Ayed takes for granted how knowledgeable her audience is to politics and history from the Middle East region. However, there were only a few moments when reading it that I was forced to do some research to learn the background of whats going on.

Also, some maps that outline the different places she’s been to throughout her life might have added some perspective to just how unrooted her life was at times.

What can journalists learn from this book?

As an aspiring journalist, this book has reinforced the idea of hitting the pavement, talking to people and doing your own persistent digging for the story. Often times, in my experience as a student journalist, it’s just too convenient to take the easy route and go by whatever the press release says or to stick with the safe interviews or leads, instead of digging to find the truth or the story hidden within the story.

How does it compare to another non-fiction work of your choice in any medium?

anchorboy

Okay, so this might seem like an odd connection to make, but the last book I’ve read written by a journalist was Anchorboy by Jay Onrait. Granted, from afar these two  books appear to have very little in common from except that they were both written by Canadians working in the field of journalism, and that they were both available in paperback versions, but I appreciate how both Anchorboy and A Thousand Farewells pull the curtain back and show the reader how the news gets collected and reported. Both of them have raised my interest in reading more memoir-style books written by influential journalists.

How did reading this book affect you? 

I think the point in this book that affected me the most was her early descriptions of where she lived in Winnipeg, which was very, very close to the area that I live in. Also, Nahlah talks about working at the Manitoban. I work at the Manitoban, so I decided to go through our archives to find old pieces written by her from the early-nineties.

Here are a few choice pieces that I thought I’d share by uploading them to imgur. Note, some of these are from the editorial page, and are not straight news stories.

It’s really encouraging to be on a similar path as someone who has ‘made it’ as a journalist. Ayed is one of six ‘notable contributors’ mentioned on the Manitoban’s Wikipedia page, and boy wouldn’t it be cool to see my name mentioned there too one day.

(Technically, that day could be right now, since Wikipedia is entirely editable…)

A story so funny, you’ll split your pants…

I’m going to take a break from my typical routine of posting about comedians and television shows to share with you a story that happened to me on January 30. This story is, sadly, 100% true.

Thursday mornings are a little bit hectic for me. I record the morning sports update for Red River Radio (shameless plug, tune in if you can!), so I’m typically in a bit of a zone as I mentally prepare myself and look over the stories and scores I plan to talk about.

On this particular day, I had slept in a bit. I got up, showered and got dressed before heading out to catch the 16 bus downtown to school. I walked up my street, and as I got close to Osbourne, I could see the 16 coming up the street. I began to run. As I got to Osbourne, I slipped on the icy sidewalk and fell, but immediately sprung back up to my feet, brushed snow off my pant legs and made my way across the street to the bus stop just in time to hop on to the crowded Winnipeg Transit bus.

I wasn’t able to see an open seat on the bus, so I stood near the front with my earphones in and ESPN on my iPhone screen. I began to block out the worldlooked over last nights sports scores and headlines like I would on any typical Thursday morning.

As the bus reached the Legislature, I looked up from my phone and made eye contact with this rather beautiful woman standing right next to me. I was surprised to find already looking right at me, as we made eye contact immediately. It was an interesting moment. It really seemed like she was trying to tell me something with her eyes.

“Clearly, I’m looking pretty good today,” I thought, as I took her prolonged stare as a silent, early morning flirting attempt. I smiled back at her, and she promptly left the bus at the next stop.

By this point, the crowded bus had started to thin out, so I walked down the aisle towards the back of the bus. A few people gave me a good look up and down, which only bolstered my confidence. Today was going to be a good day. As I slumped into my seat, I again pulled out my phone and hunched over to continue reading stuff for my radio spot.

As I looked down, I noticed something was really wrong. Apparently, when I had tripped running for the bus, I had unknowingly ripped my jeans WIDE OPEN, from the top of the zipper down to my inner thigh, effectively exposing my bits to the world.

I suddenly realized so many things:

I realized what the woman was trying to tell me with her eyes, and why me smiling back at her with a gaping hole in the crotch of my pants.

I realized that there was no time to turn back and get a new pair of pants. It was already 8:20, and I needed to both record my sports update AND get to class on time.

I realized that apparently it wasn’t cold enough outside for me to feel the winter wind’s gentle caress of my exposed upper thigh. Was this a dream? Wasn’t it -26 outside? Oh God, how long had I been standing at the front of the bus with my underwear peaking out the front of my pants?

I ultimately realized the gravity of my situation; I was officially downtown with a rip in my pants the size of the Grand Canyon and a full day of classes to go. What was I going to do? Think, Marc. Think.

I quickly called Chelsee, my roommate and fellow CreCommer (check out her blog HERE). Maybe if she was still at home, she could grab me a new pair of pants and I could sneak onto campus, get to my recording booth and have her drop off replacement pants for me.

“CHELSEE ARE YOU STILL HOME?” I said when she answered, trying not to sound too panicked.

“No, I’m already at school… why?” She replied.

I held the phone away from my ear for a moment and quietly swore to myself. That was my best and only idea. In this moment, I actually considered just rocking my ripped jeans and playing it off like It was some new fashion trend I was following.

“No guys, I totally saw Drake rocking the ripped crotch look on Kimmel last week. Don’t be rude just because you’re not as fashion-forward as me.”

That would never work.

“God…” I said putting the phone back up to my ear. “Okay, well I’m having a bit of a nightmare morning.”

Chelsee seemed genuinely concerned that something horrible had happened (something had).

“I had… a wardrobe malfunction… my jeans are… I need pants….”

Things you never imagine having to say over the phone.

Despite already being at school, calling Chelsee actually did end up saving me from a day of embarrassment wearing ripped pants. She reminded me that the book store on campus sold sweatpants that I could wear.

SWEATPANTS. That could work! I’d look like a total scrub, but its only one day. I will survive.

I thanked her profusely for her help and began to game plan how I was going to infiltrate the campus without people noticing my issue.

Its at this point I should mention the other fashion issue I was dealing with on this morning. A pocket on my peacoat had ripped, and so I had pulled out my back up winter jacket to wear that day. What I didn’t know was that the zipper was busted on it, so I could only keep it closed with the velcro bits.

So here’s my situation. I was going to run across Main Street holding my jacket together with two hands like a flasher on the prowl, in an effort to both hide my shame and to keep from getting frostbite. I would get to the bookstore, buy whatever they had, and just deal with the weird looks all day.

As I stepped off the bus, I mused that if God existed, he really must have had it out for me today. Thanks, bud.

So apparently, knowing that there’s a huge hole in your jeans is the only way you notice how freaking cold it is to walk around with a huge hole in your jeans. Coldest walk of my life.

I get to the bookstore, and start looking at the sweatpants. Price tag, $50.

FIFTY DOLLARS? FIFTY DOLLARS! FIFTY DOLLARS!?! How the hell is that justified. FIFTY DOLLARS for sweatpants.

I shuffled towards the register with my purchase in hand. The person at the counter commented on my odd timing to buy sweatpants. It was then that I just decided to own the absurdity of the situation and explained how I desperately needed to replace my jeans due to an ill-timed and ill-placed rip. We all had a brief laugh, I paid FIFTY DOLLARS for my new pants, and stealthily made my way to the men’s bathroom.

It was there that I realized how awful these sweatpants truly were. No pockets. NO POCKETS? FIFTY DOLLARS for a pair of pant with NO POCKETS. Luckily, there was nothing screen printed on the back. Not that I don’t like or support college athletics, but the idea of wearing sweatpants with “REBEL” emblazoned on my ass. (EDITORS NOTE: If the College decides to use this idea, I would appreciate creative credit).

So the difficult part was over. I went up to my radio editing suite and put together a pretty stellar (in my mind) sports update and got to class on time. Immediately, I started getting comments from my classmates on my… interesting fashion choices that day. I had assumed that Chelsee had understood and told people what had happened.

I WOULD LATER FIND OUT, Chelsee actually had no idea what had happened.  I set the record straight by posting the following photo on Facebook:

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The moral of this story:

Always bring a spare pair of pants wherever you go, because you never know what might happen.

Also, know that the Red River College book store has a fantastic return policy on sweatpants.