Tuesday 25 May 2010

Studio Execs, Please don’t kill 3D cinema

These weekend I went to the cinema not once, but twice (to see Robin Hood and Prince of Persia, both good films.) One thing that struck me was the number of adverts for 3D movies. It seems that after the success of Avatar, all the film studios want a piece of the 3D pie.

So far the investments in 3D seem to be paying off: not only can cinemas charge more for tickets but 3D cannot be replicated (yet) in a pirated version downloaded for free from the internet. Consumers can benefit from an improved movie experience and cinemas are doing better revenue-wise.

Having been extremely impressed by the visual effects in Avatar, I was recently very disappointed by the 3D effects in Clash of the Titans. From conversations with a friend in the film industry, I learned that Avatar was originally filmed stereoscopically, using two cameras to capture video, one for each eye. In contrast, Clash was not originally intended to be a 3D movie. It was shot with a single perspective, and the ‘depth’ effect was added later with a digital overlay. This created an unconvincing picture, it interfered with the other computer graphics, and generally made it a worse visual experience.

Unfortunately many of the “3D” films that I have seen advertised are apparently being made the same way. This is quite alarming to me: 3D technology has the potential to create a revolution throughout our visual media, but if it is implemented badly consumers will be put off. I hope that movie studios realise that by taking short cuts for fast money this year, they could lose out significantly in the longer term.

Tuesday 18 May 2010

Its time for a public sector recession

The UK’s budget deficit has received a lot of attention recently. However up to now, politicians have only spoken openly about what they will ring-fence, and not about what they will cut. The scale of the declines in public spending about to happen will probably take most of the country by surprise. The Financial Times has a superb budget balancing tool that brings home how difficult the decisions that have to be made really are.

In the run up to the election, the Labour party was right about one thing: the cuts will be a setback to the UK’s economic recovery. (They were wrong about something else: the cuts are not optional and cannot be put off.) The UK’s private sector has already had its recession: from 2008 to 2010 companies cut back on capital expenditure and stopped recruiting, causing a drop in the country’s output and a hike in unemployment (especially amongst the young). Throughout this period, though, the public sector kept spending and kept recruiting. Furthermore, a substantial chunk of the debt in the private sector was transferred to the public sector through the bank bailouts / nationalisations.

This action prevented a deeper recession. Unfortunately, the flip side is that we have a lot of pain to come. Rather than the “V shaped” recession we were hoping for, we are very much destined for a W-shaped one. Only this time round it will be the public sector that has to freeze its capital expenditure, and its new hiring, and, of course, its “unemployee” expenses.

Wednesday 12 May 2010

Facebook: the Big New Story that was overlooked?

May has been a busy month for news what with volcanic ash, the election, and the oil leak. But for me, one of the biggest stories has been overlooked by the mainstream media. For me, Facebook’s decision to link any Interests or Favourite things that we mention on our profile pages directly to “Community Pages” is a watershed moment. Not only is privacy being eroded - nothing new there – but this major change was undertaken without any consultation, without any choice to opt out and without any regard for the widespread criticism that has followed. In my opinion it could signal the beginning of the end for the Facebook phenomenon.

What’s so bad about the changes? For me, my profile feels like my personal space. What people see on my profile will shape their image of me, so I want to control what goes on there. In a similar way to clothes, hair styles and body language, our online presence is something that people see and make judgements about. This extends, in my opinion, to the things that we link to on our profile, in our status updates, and in wall posts. By forcing us to link our profiles to these bland and invasive ‘Community Pages,’ Facebook has put me off listing any Interests or Favourites*. Which removes one of the more interesting aspects of the social networking medium.

Why the dramatic talk of the ‘beginning of the end’ for Facebook? Because in order to sustain its dominance in social networking in the long term, Facebook will have to consistently make itself better. Judging by the outcry every time Facebook makes a change, a lot of people find that it is consistently getting worse. Facebook started out by being adopted by small but influential communities then spreading out more widely; there is no reason this success couldn’t be emulated if someone came out with a social networking platform that is a step change better.

* This also means the adverts now displayed to me are less relevant, which means I click on them less and Facebook loses advertising revenue

Wednesday 5 May 2010

Election week – the bet I can’t lose

I like the Liberal Democrats. I don’t like all of their policies. Some of them are rubbish. But I like the fact that they care about civil liberties, that they are willing to consider an alternative to Trident and that their immigration policy is not idiotic. From my perspective, the more power they gain on Thursday May 6th, the better.

Which is why I have placed a bet against them. I have bet a relatively modest sum against a ‘hung parliament’ outcome in the election. With a Labour majority, I am £15 richer; with a Tory majority I am £15 richer. With a hung parliament, I am £10 poorer but feel a lot better about the future of the country. It may not be a perfect hedge – my feelings about the future of the country are probably stronger than that*. But at least I will have something to smile and feel smug about on Friday.

*For a ‘perfect hedge’ I would also have to factor in the net present value of the cash flows determined by the future government’s tax policy on my income, which could be an interesting project in its own right