Category: TV

Why I Don’t Review With Scores or Numbers

All of my product, movie, concert, game and music reviews are written long-form, and never have any numerical rating associated with them.

They almost did. I had this clever idea to have a 5 star scale and have the rating system be glasses. Each pair of glasses would equal a star, and a monocle would equal half a star. However I sacked the idea.

It would have looked better than this.

Why did I change my mind?

Joe Woelfel.

Joe was one of my undergraduate professors, and learning from him was one of those rare life-changing teacher experiences. But I digress.

Why 1 – 5 Scales Suck

His classes were unconventional in a lot of ways, but the most significant example was his strong opposition to generic scale rating systems. This didn’t make him popular in the social sciences because 1 – 5 rating systems are pretty much the standard means for measuring any human experience in psychology, sociology, political science, and communication.

He illustrated this very simply in what turned out to be the most memorable five minutes I had in two decades of school.

Joe began a class by instructing us to take out a piece of paper, and create four 1 – 5 scales on it. Then he asked the following four questions and had us answer on those scales:

  • How big is the Moon?
  • How big is the Sun?
  • How big is a penny?
  • How big is a dime?

The answers were pretty much along these lines:

  • How big is the Moon? – 5
  • How big is the Sun? – 5
  • How big is a penny? – 1
  • How big is a dime? – 1
Or for those who went back and changed their answers:
  • How big is the Moon? – 4
  • How big is the Sun? – 5
  • How big is a penny? – 2
  • How big is a dime? – 1

The problem was immediately apparent to everyone with a pulse. According to this research, students perceptions are that the Moon and Sun are the same size, while pennies and dimes are the same size. The kicker being that the Moon and the Sun are five times larger than pennies and dimes.

His point was that these methods of measurement are meaningless because the ratings have no context, and there’s no opportunity for logical mathematical comparison. So he (and a few others) created a system of measure that was based on comparison. It’s complex, and I’m not going to get into it here.

Why 1 – 100 Scales Suck

So you might be asking yourself, why not use a 1 – 100 scale?

It still has no comparison value, but mostly I don’t know the difference between an 83 and an 84 in terms of quality. Whenever I see ratings like 93, I find myself completely baffled by how someone came up with that number. Sometimes I reach the bottom of a review and see some strange number and I actually laugh as I imagine my eighth grade algebra teacher yelling, “Show your damn work!”

The bottom-line

I don’t know how to boil my complex thoughts about something into an arbitrary number. Plus, if I write a number it devalues all of the rest of the thought and nuance that went into the review.

Read a review, don’t read a review. Numerical rating systems distort reality. I won’t be using them.

“The Newsroom” Looks Great

The trailer for the new HBO series The Newsroom looks damn good. But I’m biased because I’m a huge Aaron Sorkin (West Wing, A Few Good Men, The Social Network) fan. Have a look and judge for yourself.

No one writes better “Go fuck yourself” lines than Sorkin. No one.

Tablets Are Not TV’s Friend

According to Nielsen, 85% of people who have tablets use them while watching television. The report also claims that 30% of tablet use happens while watching television.

So many screens, one is bound to have something interesting.

“As mentioned, 85 percent of tablet owners use the device while watching TV. Nielsen also says that 30 percent of tablet use happens while watching the television. TV companies are creating companion applications to engage viewers on a deeper level during their favorite shows. Even cable companies are creating their own video-streaming apps in an effort to get in front of the cord cutting trend — severing ties with cable operators in favor of services like Hulu Plus. Comcast’s Xfinity app is an example of this.”

At SXSW 2012, I watched a panel discussion about “three screen convergence,” or the idea that people are using laptops, mobiles and tablets while watching TV. The panelists were positively giddy about the trend.

Two moments of the panel have stuck in my head over a month later. The first was when Eric J. Bruno, senior vice president of Consumer Product Management & Development for Verizon Communications told the crowd that he, “geeks out about DRM (digital rights management).” That isn’t relevant to my point, but I’m still trying to understand how he was able to utter those words without his brain melting and dripping out of every available orifice. But I digress.

The second, and much more relevant moment was when Soraya Darabi spoke about everyone’s favorite “screen convergence is great” moment, the Superbowl. The panel was abuzz about the Superbowl, and similar national experiences where most or many of us are watching one thing at the same time. Ms. Darabi spoke of the hilarious tweets she saw cross her feed during the Superbowl and awards shows. She just loved the sarcasm and comedy from those she follows.The panel thought this was great too. Their collective conclusion is that social media commentary while watching a television program equals positive engagement.

They’re wrong.

Disengaged Viewers

I’ve often used my mobile, tablet or laptop while watching television. The only times I ever do are when I am disengaged. When I’m watching something that someone else has selected, and I’m either not interested or in the case of Grey’s Anatomy, doing my very best to resist the urge to permanently damage my ears just to make it stop.

When I’m watching Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Mad Men or Boardwalk Empire the last thing that I want to do is miss a single second of the show. The only time I’ve ever touched another screen is to look up some reference from the show, and if I do, I’m hitting pause first.

The people tweeting funny things about the Superbowl and awards shows aren’t engaging with the show that they are watching, they are coping with the fact that they are stuck watching it. They’re the bored friend dragged to the Superbowl party, or the spouse stuck watching the Academy Awards. They are using a different screen as an escape, and looking for sympathy from their followers.

Old guard media executives can pretend that this trend is good for them, but it’s just an exercise in self-delusion.

Update: I found this just after publishing. This study, is remarkably in line with what I just wrote.

Full Disclosure: The Three Screen Convergence panel at SXSW 2012 was organized by a personal friend.

(Via Venture Beat – Media)

“Breaking Bad” 16-Bit Edition

Last month some people who I thought were my friends peer pressured me into “trying” Breaking Bad. Breaking Bad is an AMC series about a highly overqualified high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with lung cancer. With the help of a former screwup student begins cooking the worlds highest quality crystal meth in order to pay for his treatment and leave some money for his family. Insanity and amazing storytelling ensue. The show is ridiculously addictive. Next thing I knew I was nursing a three episode a night binge habit.

Just watch the damn show. You won’t regret it.

Moving on… College Humor created a 16-bit version of Breaking Bad. It comes complete with a badass 16-bit rendition of Rodrigo y Gabriela’s masterpiece Tamacun. Don’t watch this unless you’ve watched the show already… Bitch.

16-Bit Breaking Bad

Rodrigo y Gabriela’s first album with Tamacun and 8 other magnificent songs (CD) (Download)