Netizen’s taste making: shaking up American movie rating system


Yet another evidence that the Web is attacking established commercial system and accompanied cultural elite. In this case, citizen activism forces the rating system MPAA, instead of negociating to change, and studios, theaters chains along with it.

The eventuality should be clear to anyone who cares to think about the future of media – it will be end user driven. That’s where the future will be. Even Yogi Berra said so

“You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going because you might not get there.”

The Web Is Pouncing on Hollywood’s Ratings


ARE the ratings that Hollywood gives its movies becoming irrelevant?

The Motion Picture Association of America started rating films in 1968 to indicate suitability for children. Ever since, some group or another — whether of parents or politicians or filmmakers — has complained: Too broad. Too easily manipulated. Too arbitrary.

The association, financed by the movie studios, has occasionally bowed to public pressure and tinkered with its evaluation process. In 2007, for instance, it started considering smoking alongside sex, violence and profanity when assessing films.

But the ratings system is coming under fresh attack via the Web, and that may make bigger changes inevitable, some Hollywood veterans fret. Studios count a movie’s rating as one of their primary marketing tools, and they worry that any recalibration would cut into their attendance — and profits.

The standard Hollywood ratings — G, PG, PG-13, R and NC-17 — must now compete with all manner of Internet-based ratings alternatives, some of which are gaining new traction through social networking tools., which monitors tobacco use in movies, issues pink, light gray, dark gray or black lungs to films, depending on how smoking is depicted. Kids-in-Mind.comranks movies on a scale of 1 to 10 in categories like “sex and nudity” and “violence and gore.” issues ratings from a Christian perspective. A “+4,” or “exemplary,” means “no questionable elements whatsoever.” A “-4,” or “abhorrent,” means “intentional blasphemy, evil, gross immorality.”

Easily disseminated on the Web, these alternative services are becoming scrappy competitors to the Hollywood voice of authority.

Jack Valenti, who ran the M.P.A.A. for 38 years and created the ratings system, used to call people who complained about the system “C. W.’s,” or constant whiners. Joan Graves, chairwoman of the organization’s Classification and Ratings Administration, listens more patiently to complaints, but is no less emphatic in her stance: the ratings system is not broken.

“If we tried to respond to the demands of every special interest group, we would shoot ourselves,” she said in an interview. “That doesn’t mean we can’t improve,” she added. “We are always on alert for ways to make tweaks so that ratings are more informative or more realistic.”

Grass-roots ratings sites do not mute the association’s voice, Ms. Graves said. “People complain when they are surprised, so the more information they have, the better,” she said.

But she says the sites are one reason her organization is striving for a more consumer-friendly online presence, noting that a redesigned M.P.A.A. site will appear in coming months. The goal is to be more informative about why movies receive certain ratings. “We want to be more transparent,” Ms. Graves said.

In 2006, the association introduced a service called Red Carpet Ratings, a weekly e-mail blast intended to make it easier for parents to get official ratings information.

Many advocacy groups have complained that the PG-13 rating, which cautions parents but does not restrict entry, is inadequate. In response, Ms. Graves says the association has talked about dividing the R rating into new categories. She also says that “there might be a need to develop a 15 rating,” for movies not appropriate for children under that age.

But financial forces are at work against any changes. If the difference between a PG and a PG-13 rating can be tens of millions of dollars at the box office, the last thing studios want is to slice the pie thinner. Theater owners are reluctant to changes for the same reasons, and would need more employees to enforce, say, an under-15 restriction (with school ID cards, learner’s permits and parents offering proof of age).

Hollywood created ratings to prevent government policing of its content. To determine ratings, the association uses a board of 10 to 12 parents of children ages 5 to 17, with no person staying longer than seven years. Although all the participants live in the Los Angeles area, their geographic backgrounds and ideological views vary, Ms. Graves said. A studio can either accept the rating it is given or ask what editing would be required for a less restrictive one.

The Internet has started to pick away at the M.P.A.A.’s authority in other ways. Consumers can now easily look up the ratings that Hollywood movies receive in other countries, where studios exert much less control. “I Am Legend” and “Cloverfield” were both deemed PG-13 at home, for instance, but Britain slapped both with a 15 rating.

Such disparity was recently brought to the forefront by Universal Pictures’ decision to release multiple versions of “Brüno” in Britain to get around ratings restrictions there.

Bloggers, with a hunger for minutiae, have also started to report when studios try to make minor edits to get a less restrictive rating. The filmmakers behind “Brüno,” the raunchy comedy about a flamboyantly gay fashionista, used this strategy; the pixilation of some penises, among other small cuts, ultimately sneaked “Brüno” under the R wire.

Last week, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood a Harvard group with an e-mail list of more than 30,000 people, started a Web petition against the M.P.A.A.’s PG-13 policies, which it sees as too lax. The group wants the Federal Trade Commission to step in, to ensure that PG-13 movies are marketed only in ways consistent with the rating.

“We think there is a critical mass building against the M.P.A.A. on the Web that will hopefully result in major changes to its ratings practices,” said Susan Linn, the advocacy group’s director.

All content businesses, please take note

This is a known story. Music labels have been in decline for quite a few years. Same has been happening to all media in their traditional forms, linear scheduled television, movie going, newspapers, book publishing, live classical performances.
– U.S. album sales were down 17.8% in May compared to the same period a year ago, and 36.7% lower than sales reported in May 2007, Billboard reported.

For the year so far through the end of May, album sales are down 13.4% from 2008.

Digital album sales were also down 13.1% in May, and are down 7.6% so far this year.

Digital track sales posted only modest gains during the month, showing gains of 5%, 6%, 2% and 5%, respectively, across the four weeks in May, according to Billboard.

“Ultimately we believe that the best way to beat piracy is to create great new licensed services that are easier and more fun to use, whether that’s an unlimited streaming service like Spotify or a service like the one recently announced by Virgin which aims to offer unlimited MP3 downloads as well as unlimited streams,” said Tim Walker, CEO of The Leading Question.
— from Report: File-Sharing Among U.K. Teens Down by One-Third. Related Links: (PDF of announcement) (Billboard)

Rules of the Hive Mind


Well, Wikipedia’s decision is pretty straight forward ( For all Web social network media that aim for a serious audience, the self-correcting mechanism requires not only critical amount of participation, but also check-and-balances to achieve the unique combination of benefits of

1. low cost content generation – by voluntary users

2. speedy correction

3. infinite subject matters

Beware, not everything goes. advocacy or propaganda and philosophical, ideological or religious dispute do not belong to serious Web social media. Though on issues of historical entries mong other types, philosophical and ideological disputes are hard to keep out if not impossible. But if 20th century philosophy taught us anything, we should know by now that there are only versions and iterations of the versions of facts and truth. What’s better than having an ongoing, evolving versions and iterations of “facts” and “truth” which are kept in multi-dimentional fashion – such as in Wikipedia’s edit history, editor’s profile, other metadata such as time of edit, notes about the edit, etc.

The use of free tagging and UGC within enterprises remains a open question.

Wikipedia Blocks Edits From Church of Scientology

Authored by Mark Hefflinger on May 29, 2009 – 11:19am.

Los Angeles – The committee in charge of user-edited online encyclopedia Wikipedia voted unanimously this week to block contributions to the site from IP addresses owned or operated by the Church of Scientology, after a lengthy arbitration determined that users were editing Wikipedia articles in the church’s interest. “You could imply that there is a conflict of interest,” Wikipedia spokesman Dan Rosenthal told ABC News. “Rather than two unrelated people getting together,” advocates of scientology have been “getting together, saying, ‘Let’s work together

to make this a more pro-scientology article.'”

Users associated with the church can apply for an exemption to the block, provided they first agree to abide by Wikipedia’s stated rules, which say that “use of the encyclopedia to advance personal agendas — such as advocacy or propaganda and philosophical, ideological or religious dispute — or to publish or promote original research is prohibited.”

In addition to blocking IP addresses connected with the church, Wikipedia also decided to block a number of anti-Scientology editors from changing articles related to the church.

Finger painting on touch screen


June 2009 New Yorker Cover

iPone painting newyorker

How the artist did it:


Perpetual movement toward cutting out the middlemen


The Web continues its enabling power for content creator and content consumer to connect directly, and to fundementally blow the line between the creator and consumer.

It’s still a stretch to think many politician at high-up places will do what Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister is doing with Twitter; nor do we know which fad will stick. But the potential of some kind of social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook in political communication is tremendous.

Twitter Diplomacy

The U.S. State Dept. is enlisting Silicon Valley companies such as Google and Twitter to help bring high tech to Iraq and Afghanistan

By Spencer E. Ante
BW Magazine

“Sorry, my first tweet not pleasant; dust storm in Baghdad today & yet another suicide bomb. awful reminder that it is not yet all fine here.” — First Twitter post from Barham Salih, Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister

On a warm spring evening in Iraq this April, months before Iranians made global headlines with angry Twitter posts, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and several other American tech leaders sipped wine with Barham Salih in the garden of his Baghdad home. Dorsey urged Salih to start using the microblogging service to publicize the inner workings of the Iraqi government. “The people of Iraq and the media will follow you,” said Dorsey. “A technology like Twitter can bring access and transparency to government.” The conversation led to Salih’s first post on Apr. 24.

Dorsey was part of a first-of-its-kind technology delegation set up by the U.S. State Dept. Executives from Google (GOOG), AT&T (T), and several Silicon Valley startups traveled to Iraq to meet with government officials, business leaders, and students to offer ideas for using technology throughout the country. While the idea of promoting Twitter in a war-torn country without reliable electricity may sound far-fetched, the representatives found a receptive audience. Salih now has nearly 1,500 people following his posts, and he tweets about twice a day. “Review of Iraq’s oil policy with PM Maliki & VP Mahdi today,” he wrote last week. “Just did the Colbert Report. Great fun!” he said another time.

The Iraq digital delegation is part of a broader effort at the State Dept. U.S. officials are looking for ways to use the country’s technology leadership as a diplomatic tool. Similar delegations are being planned for Afghanistan, Mexico, and other countries. To help manage these efforts, 37-year-old Alec Ross has been named the department’s first-ever senior adviser on innovation.

Of course, the State Dept. has long organized business delegations to foreign countries. But the trip to Iraq marked the first time the government created a delegation specifically for tech companies. The idea is that countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan can hear directly from top executives about creative ways to use YouTube (GOOG), Twitter, or Facebook, while U.S. tech companies can market their wares and forge business ties abroad. “The work we’ve done with Jack and Twitter is a good example of the way we can work with Silicon Valley companies,” says Jared Cohen of the State Dept.’s Policy Planning Staff.

Cohen argues that the U.S. has a unique opportunity to open doors abroad because of the strength of its tech sector, especially as young people around the world increasingly use technology to socialize, agitate, and organize. In Iran, for example, young Iranians have been posting stories, pictures, and videos capturing the protests roiling the streets of Tehran. On June 15, Cohen asked Twitter to delay an upgrade of its network, which would have disrupted communications in Iran. The department’s involvement is separate from the tech delegations, but reflects the same tech emphasis.

The Iraq trip was the brainchild of Cohen, a 27-year-old former Rhodes Scholar. He started sounding out tech companies in February, and by April the delegation donned flak jackets to take a military plane from Jordan into Baghdad. For five days, the State Dept. escorted the visitors around the city in armored convoys, where they met with the Iraqi Prime Minister, the Minister of Science & Technology, and engineering students from the University of Baghdad. Hunter Walk, product management director at Google, says the trip helped the search giant consider ways to make technology more accessible in areas where Internet service is spotty. “That goes to the heart of our mission,” he says.

Several projects have been kicked off as a result of the trip. Google is working with the Iraqis to build a YouTube video channel where official events and speeches will be available to anyone. At the National Museum of Iraq, which was looted after the U.S. invasion, tech companies are helping to build a Web site to showcase art and artifacts. And Twitter is tweaking its software code to let Iraqis send out posts from mobile phones, since most don’t have computers.

Farhad Alaaldin, an Iraqi who is director general of the London telecom provider Talia Communications, says the long-term changes may be more significant. Because of the visit, Salih established a task force to foster the use of digital media in Iraq. Alaaldin, who will co-chair the task force, says young people in particular are interested in taking advantage of new technologies. “The university students [who met with] the delegation are still buzzing with the ideas and thoughts they heard from them,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Media as the "4th Power" or as entertainment


I’ve wondered since Obama won the election last Nov. what would happen to REpublican/conservative media outlets under Murdock’s News Corp. Now we know about the NeoCon’s Weekly Standard.

Clarity Media to Buy Conservative Magazine The Weekly Standard

Authored by Mark Hefflinger on June 18, 2009 – 10:41am.

Washington – Clarity Media Group, the Denver-based publisher of The Washington Examiner, said that it will pay an undisclosed sum to buy DC-based conservative opinion magazine and website The Weekly Standard from owner News Corp (NYSE: NWS).

Clarity, owned by billionaire Phil Anschutz, said that it plans to retain the magazine’s staff and content.

“We’re very much looking forward to working with (Clarity) to produce an even better magazine with a stronger web presence and even larger readership,” said William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard.

The publication, launched by News Corp. in 1995, has an audited circulation of 83,000, with a newsstand price of $3.95.

File-swap and civil disobedience


Ultimately, there is something called civil disobedience, any game changing trend may have to come to that should current establishment, political, legal, commercial, or otherwise resist the change.

Harvard Law Prof. Admonished by Judge in File-Sharing Case
Authored by Mark Hefflinger on June 18, 2009 – 12:37pm.

Boston – Harvard Law professor Charles Nesson, who is defending Boston student Joel Tenenbaum against charges of copyright infringement on a file-sharing network by Sony (NYSE: SNE), has been admonished by the judge for some of his legal tactics, Ars Technica reported.

“The Court’s indulgence is at an end,” wrote U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner.

“Too often, as described below, the important issues in this case have been overshadowed by the tactics of defense counsel: taping opposing counsel without permission (and in violation of the law), posting recordings of court communications and emails with potential experts (who have rejected the positions counsel asserts) on the Internet, and now allegedly replicating the acts that are the subject of this lawsuit, namely uploading the copyrighted songs that the Defendant is accused of file-sharing.”

Most recently, Nesson posted all of the songs that Tenenbaum is accused of sharing on a peer-to-peer network to an online storage locker.

Ars noted that, despite the judge’s warning, Nesson has been successful in persuading her to allow a “fair use” defense to be argued at trial, and also to allow continued videotaping of depositions, provided they are not posted online.