It's been a quiet week. A mysterious figure skater out on the lake draws a crowd, Senator K. Thorvaldson finally heads south for the winter, and Donald Thorvaldson catches up with a few classmates.
With the Super Bowl being played on Sunday, that of course means it's that time of year where a truly huge segment of Americans gather in massive multitudes to sit around television sets across the country to watch the ads.
Which raisies the question about all those Super Bowl-related ads that crop up on TV in the weeks before the broadcast.
You may have noticed over the decades that in most ads leading up to the Super Bowl, the event itself is referred to as "The Big Game," where you're admonished to be sure to, among other things, "stock up on Yumm-o's Potato Chips for The Big Game," -- or some such idiotic-sounding phrase. But it's usually "The Big Game."
The reason is because the NFL has trademarked the phrase "Super Bowl," although that reason on its own isn't enough of an explanation. Rather, it's because of a law that basically requires the NFL to threaten to sue. The law says if a company doesn't threaten to sue over an infringement of its trademark, they can lose that trademark. (A company can grant a waiver, but only if someone has paid for that right.) As a result, the NFL has a storage room full of "cease-and-desist" letters that a guy name Buddy is in charge of, his whole job being to grab a form from that room and mailing it out to anyone who even seems like they might be abusing the NFL's rights.
It's why even your piddly local stores promote their Super Bowl sales, or two-for-one meals during the broadcast as being for "The Big Game." As The Motley Fool reported --
"A classic example occurred in 2007 leading up to Super Bowl XLI between the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears when the NFL sent a cease and desist letter to an Indiana church group that had advertised its party with an intent to charge admission. The letter led to several other church groups around the country to stop similar activities, the exact effect the NFL was seeking."
You may wonder why the NFL would bother. Who cares if business call it the Super Bowl? Wouldn't that even help promote the event -- which clearly is in dire need of being promoted. It's because the NFL signs up corporate sponsors for A WHOLE LOT OF MONEY each year -- Budweiser alone paid $1.2 billion to be the Official Beer of the NFL. And such deals would be worth a whole lot less without that trademark protection of the NFL logo. And so the league protects all of its trademarks. Including the Super Bowl, which sells exclusive ads for that very same WHOLE LOT OF MONEY.
(This doesn't mean the Super Bowl can't be written or talked about as "the Super Bowl." The NFL doesn't have an official newspaper, for instance, or official blog, so there's no trademark infringement. Incidentally, Elisberg Industries did make an offer, but the league chose not to accept my bid of $8.75.)
Okay, so I get it. Sort of. What I don't get is why companies have generally taken the easy road and settled on something as paltry as "The Big Game" as their default, go-to code for the Super Bowl. At least Stephen Colbert's show actually came up with a clever way to get around the trademark (not that they probably had it, but likely chose to turn it into a comedy bit to make a point). They devised a segment about the "Superb Owl," just shifting the letter "b" one space over, and Colbert would then talk about this fine creature...along with related football information.
However it's always seemed that there have to be much better ways to get around the "Super Bowl" trademark blockade than just The Big Game. For starters, you could call it exactly what it is -- the NFL Championship Game. Or the Championship Football Game. Or even the Super Game.
But there's one that's always leaped out to me as the most clever way around it all. And that's referring to the event as -- the "Super Ballgame." Most especially as a voiceover in a TV or ad, that would be almost indistinguishable from the Real Thing. (And no, I don't mean Coca Cola -- which of course is trademarked..). But even as a graphic, describing the event as the "Super Ballgame" would seem to be clearly different enough, yet obvious enough to have your rear end covered.
Perhaps the NFL would threaten to sue on that, as well. But of course, threatening to sue and winning are two entirely different matters. And maybe they wouldn't threaten. But maybe companies just feel it's not worth the effort and money defending themselves even if they felt winning was a no-brainer.
Whatever the reason, we're generally stuck with The Big Game,
Next up -- some company trademarking, "The Big Game"...
This is an interview on a very early David Letterman Show with a man who's synonymous with perhaps the worst timing ever in the history of show business. It's an appearance by Pete Best, the drummer with the Beatles who got replaced by Ringo Starr right before the group hit it big. And then bigger. And then...well, you know.
There are some tittering laughs throughout from the audience, but overall he handles it impressively well, considering the eternal angst he had every right to feel. He shows a solid mixture of self-effacing humor, understandable disappointment and honesty. And Letterman treats him with great respect.
The interview took place on July 14, 1982. It's in two parts, and they show run together. It runs for about 11 minutes.
Apple has announced that its first wearable, its anticipated Apple Watch will begin shipping In April. The company's CEO Tim Cook was enthusiastic about it. "I'm using it every day and love it and can't live without it," he said.
I'm going to guess that he actually can live without it, but I'm willing to accept some hyperbole from a CEO.
The Apple Watch will start at a bottom cost of $349 for the most basic device in the line. And I expect it to sell extremely well when it's introduced. Not for any special reason of features or that people can't actually live without it, but because the device says "Apple" on it, and the company has done a good job whipping up its fanboys into thinking they need this and can't live without Apple's first new product in almost five years. Whether the initial rush to buy is the same after a few months and reality and usage (or lack thereof) has settled in remains to be seen.
This is no aspersion against the Apple Watch itself. It's what I've written about all Smart Watches since I first came across them several years ago at tech trade shows.
I know that Apple has proved skeptics wrong in the past, and in huge ways. But when they did do this (and they've had their mis-steps, too), it's been with things like the iPhone and iPad, Apple created markets that didn't exist before and turned out to have a need for. But Apple isn't the first to the market with a Smartwatch, or second or even third. And it's not like the companies already there are small and shoddy -- we're talking companies like Samsung, LG and Sony -- or had cheesy products. The Samsung and LG Smartwatch lines especially are very rich devices. It's just that...well, they public has thus-far yawned. The watches are very well-done, there just hasn't been shown even remotely a need. Along with other issues, even if there was a need.
To be clear, I'm not saying that there is not a market for a Smartwatch one day. Just that right now, these companies haven't shown that path. And I include Apple.
First, today, you need to own a Smartphone to connect to a Smartwatch, in order to use it. So, you're being asked to spend many hundreds of dollars to buy a device that does pretty much everything another expensive device you already own does. And you have to own the same brand Smartphone and Swartwatch. So, if you see a Smartwatch that you really love that's made by LG, and you own (and love) a Samsung Galaxy Note...sorry, you're out of luck.
Second that other device you already own, your Smartphone, not only does everything the Smartwatch does -- it does it FAR better. A much bigger screen for reading messages and browsing websites and playing games and watching movies. A real keypad for typing text. A significantly better camera (and one that's far easier to use). And so on and on.
Third, oh, that screen. The bigger a screen the easier to read it -- but the more cumbersome on the wrist. The smaller on the wrist, though, the more difficult for it to be useful. And Apple itself has already acknowledged the public's move toward bigger screens by introducing its first large-screen iPhone 6.
The problem here with screens is that if you look at actual everyday watches on the market and compare those for men and women, the one's for women are tiny and elegant. I have yet to talk to many women who are anxious to strap a huge Smartwatch on their wrist. And I've asked a lot. ("Many" is herein defined as "more than one, and less than three.") So, right away, you're cutting out half your market.
But it's more than that. What about kids? The youth market helped explode the world for Smartwatches and tablets. But being kids, their wrists are inherently small -- are they going to want to strap on a big Smartwatch? And keep in mind that already the watch industry has plummeted because young people have moved away from wearing watches. So, right away, you're cutting out another huge portion of your market.
There's also the problem with battery life. That might be addressed one day, but at the moment Smartwatches have to be recharged every night. I know that many people are used to that with their phones and tablets -- but that's without necessarily using their phone and tablet all the time and having them in Sleep mode much of the day, saving on battery drain. That doesn't work with your Smartwatch, it's going to be on all day. And your watch isn't something you want to lose power on your during the middle of the day.
And then the issue of talking on a Smartwatch. Try holding up your wrist to you ear for 30 seconds. Not only will you feel incredibly stupid, but your arm is going to get tired. And this is without a big watch on it. And for only 30 seconds. When was your last 30-second phone call? ("Sorry, mom, I really can't talk now" doesn't even cut it.)
These are all generic problems with all Smartwatches, not a finger-point at Apple's. And it's not to say that the problems won't eventually be addressed at some point. But I haven't seen that yet. Nor do I know how you address the screen size conundrum. Though some day, perhaps someone will.
(Apple does have one issue unique to them. Its fans tend to love making sure others know they're using an iWhatever. And so, Apple's products all have unique looks. Hence they are Cool. But the Apple Watch looks pretty much like any Smartwatch. The watch face is a touch different, but not much at all, most-especially from afar -- and by "afar" I mean like 10 feet. And even at that, they all look pretty similar. So, it won't be clear that You Are Using an Apple Watch and Therefore Cool. You'll look like you're wearing a big, fat watch. Made by anyone.)
One way that companies have been pushing Smartwatches is making the point that what Dick Tracy used 60 years ago is finally here!!! (Samsung even had Dick Tracy in its first TV spots.) There's a big problem being overlooked with this, though -- 60 years ago, Dick Tracy didn't have Smartphones and tablets to choose from. If he did, there's a good chance he wouldn't use his two-way watch.
On Star Trek, the touchstone of all things geeky and futuristic, even Captain Kirk and other members of the Starship Enterprise crew didn't use communicator Smartwatches. They all had their flip-phone communicators.
Again, I expect initial Apple Watch sales to be very big. Just because. And a lot of journalists will be falling over themselves misinterpreting this. Because I also expect that within months, most of those people will be wondering why they bought the thing and word-of-mouth is not going to get others rushing to buy their own must-have cool device.
Smartwatch this space...
Nell Minow passed along some pretty bizarre and fascinating entertainment news -- that Woody Allen has agreed to write and direct a new "TV" series with Amazon.
At the moment, it's going by the clever name of The Untitled Woody Allen Project. The half-hour comedy series has a full-season order (though there's no mention of how many episodes there will be), but Allen will write and direct all episodes.
"Woody Allen is a visionary creator who has made some of the greatest films of all-time, and it’s an honor to be working with him on his first television series," Roy Price, Vice President of Amazon Studios, said in a statement. "From 'Annie Hall' to 'Blue Jasmine,' Woody has been at the creative forefront of American cinema and we couldn't be more excited to premiere his first TV series exclusively on Prime Instant Video next year."
But my favorite quote is the one from Woody Allen.
"I don’t know how I got into this. I have no ideas and I’m not sure where to begin. My guess is that Roy Price will regret this."
Mind you, I suspect he does have at least some ideas, even if they're not fully fleshed-out. And I'm quite sure that Roy Price is already thrilled with it, even if the series turns out to be a total disaster (which seems thoroughly unlikely) since it will no doubt bring in subscribers whatever the series ends up being.
What I also suspect is that what was most appealing to Woody Allen is that he likely has been given 100% carte blanche to do whatever in the world he wants. And though he probably has a lot of freedom on his movies, a lot of freedom is not the same as "100% carte blanche," and he also doesn't have to write a script on spec in hopes of raising the money. But mainly it's that 100% carte blanche thing...
By the way, it's worth noting that this is the sort of thing I was writing about back when the Writers Guild went on strike in 2007 and signed deals with Amazon and Netflix and such places that would give them much more control of their work (and I believe even copyright, though I can't swear to that). I said that by the AMPTP pretending that they hadn't studied the Internet and didn't know if there was money to be made from it, and therefore offering literally zero to the WGA, it opened the door to these alternative deals which would, in term, open the doors to actual competition to the studios and networks. And with this news, and other highly successful series from Netflix and Amazon (and others upcoming, I'm sure...), that clearly is the case.
I thought I'd offer up a mid-week contest. The contestant is June Echols from Richmond, Virginia. Happily, I got the hidden composer style, which isn't regularly the case, so I suspect others will have a good chance of getting that, too. As for the hidden song, it's one of those that was on the tip of my tongue and I could tell I should know it, but just couldn't get it...and then with the song running out and mere seconds to go, sure that I'd missed out...bingo, I figured out what it was, and I shouted out the name, just under the wire. The tune is well-hidden for a specific reason which composer Bruce Adolph explains afterwards.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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