Television Goes to the Movies

The lines between television and movies continue to become more and more blurred.

Even though today’s streaming programs are still called television, they have nothing in common with traditional broadcast or cable TV programming.

The made-for-streaming variety of entertainment fare is generally commercial free and able to avoid the strict timing with which traditional TV has had to contend.

Feature films almost always have a formulaic rhythm to their plotlines that locks them into fixed time slots with which the story must mesh.

With viewers binge-watching entire seasons, series that stream are able to feature similar production values as those of feature films. This allows for them to be financed with larger budgets similar to the ones that studio motion pictures enjoy, while also permitting more flexibility in the pacing of plots.

A case in point is Amazon Studios upcoming “The Lord of the Rings,” a so-called television series that is currently in production. In 2017 Amazon was able to obtain the rights to J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved Middle Earth tale with the goal of creating a streaming series along the lines of the very successful “Game of Thrones.”

It is expected that the “Rings” fantasy streaming series will end up expending the kind of cash layout typically associated with big league studio movie projects.

As money soaked Silicon Valley companies descend on Hollywood, budgets to release long-form streaming of what used to be called television are actually expanding.

There has been a record-breaking first season production cost for “Rings” of an astonishing $465 million, according to the Hollywood Reporter. This is not a number that anyone in the industry would previously have associated with a TV production.

The project is being filmed in New Zealand, and the budget numbers were released as part of the New Zealand government’s Official Information Act, confirming that it is the highest amount spent on a so-called television series.

By comparison, HBO’s “Thrones,” with a budget that was considered groundbreaking for its time, had a tab of about $100 million per season.

Despite the massiveness of the “Rings” budget, this sum does not include the $250 million that Amazon reportedly paid to acquire the rights to the Tolkien material.

With more than 150 million copies sold, the epic fantasy novel from which the series is derived is one of the best-selling books ever written.

The Middle Earth historical saga is of particular interest to Christians in that the work features multiple Christian themes, such as the struggles between good and evil, death and immortality, and fate and free will, as well as the addictive nature of power, the virtue of hope, and the value of redemptive suffering.

Tolkien himself wrote that his book “is a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.”

Tolkien’s Catholic Christianity also had a profound influence on his close friend, another beloved Christian author, C. S. Lewis. Both had taught at Oxford and were members of the same literary group, and both became known for writing fictional narratives that featured Christian themes and principles.

In his autobiography “Surprised by Joy,” Lewis described himself as “the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England.”

In September of 1931, Tolkien and Lewis, while walking together with fellow professor Hugo Dyson, were discussing the subject of mythology. It was one of those discussions between intellectuals that can go on for hours. It actually did.

Chatting into the wee hours of the morning, Tolkien posed the proposition during the conversation that the story of Christianity is a myth, which happens to be true.

A few days later Lewis wrote to a friend, stating, “I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ, in Christianity… My long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a great deal to do with it.”

Hopefully, the streaming series will stay true to the Christian themes that Tolkien painstakingly placed in his works. After all, if Amazon is spending $465 million to produce the “Rings” series, keeping the Christian audience would not only be a sound business strategy but a necessary one.

The official description of the new series gives an indication that “The Lord of the Rings” streaming series will continue in the tradition that Peter Jackson established in the film versions.

It will reportedly have a story line in which “…kingdoms rose to glory and fell to ruin, unlikely heroes were tested, hope hung by the finest of threads, and the greatest villain that ever flowed from Tolkien’s pen threatened to cover all the world in darkness.”

Look for Amazon to debut the series later this year.

Antitrust Law Should Be Used to Break Up Big Tech Monopolies

161214-trump_techexecutives-1558_539e73df73d2409411e78c0f502b8ce3-fit-1240w

President Donald Trump, via his Twitter account, recently prompted a public discussion about the possibility of using antitrust law against major technology companies, due in part to a growing body of evidence that bias is being perpetrated against conservative individuals and entities by such companies.

The primary rationale of antitrust enforcement is the protection of the American consumer and free market economy from unprincipled business behavior by monopolistic enterprises.

Never before in the nation’s history have companies, such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon, among others, possessed the size, wealth, dominance, control, and sheer power that the tech giants do.

With more than 70 percent of the PC search market and almost 85 percent of the mobile device market, Google currently has a virtual stranglehold on the gateway to digital information. And Google’s video social media platform, YouTube, controls almost 80 percent of the video market.

Facebook has about 2 billion users worldwide, and when the company’s additional acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp are factored in, 95 percent of young people regularly log on to Facebook platforms.

When it comes to Amazon, by the year’s end the company will have swallowed up almost 50 percent of the U.S. e-commerce business, and additionally lays claim to 80 percent of the e-book market. Amazon is also the largest provider of hosted cloud services, and the odds are strong that an online sales firm that competes with the company would likely be using Amazon servers for its own website.

Research on Google searches has produced data, which indicate that bias against conservative news outlets, blogs, and websites exists, and additionally indicate that ideologically right-of-center content has actually been removed from YouTube.

Despite Google’s denial of bias, PJMedia recently conducted a count of search results relating to President Trump and found that 96 percent of the most visible news articles that arose were generated from liberal outlets.

The Daily Caller reported that Google’s fact check feature engages almost exclusively in the targeting of right-of-center sites.

Facebook has exhibited bias in its trending topics, as well as in its removal of conservative content, and Amazon has manipulated book reviews to favor leftist writers.

Despite promises to the contrary, Facebook continues to censor ideas based on conservative content and has recently been caught doing so. A New York Post article by Salena Zito, which noted that supporters of President Trump were unaffected by the conviction and plea deal of two prominent Trump-associated individuals, Zito’s article was labeled as “spam.”

Facebook even took down an article titled “The School Shootings That Weren’t,” posted by NPR, that showed the number of school shootings, which were claimed to have taken place during the 2015–2016 school year, was highly inflated.

The president is correct in suggesting that the use of antitrust law against tech companies may be a necessary step that the government needs to take in order to awaken the tech giants to the duty that they have, to exercise greater responsibility in their approach to users and content. If they do not, consequences may result as seen with other companies, which were divided into smaller less monopolistic concerns.

In a previous antitrust filing, AT&T was split up into eight much smaller companies, and Standard Oil was divided into 34 firms. Each of these companies possessed the ability to almost totally dominate their respective market. The original AT&T accounted for 93 percent of all telephone calls made in the U.S., and Standard Oil sold 87 percent of U.S. refined oil.

An antitrust case that began in the early years of former President Bill Clinton’s administration was ultimately settled by the Department of Justice. Microsoft had been accused of abusing monopoly power on personal computers, in its handling of operating system and web browser sales, by bundling its Internet Explorer browser with its Windows operating system.

Microsoft’s actions are strikingly similar to a recent Google business practice. To insure its dominance of the mobile market, Google forced carriers and manufactures that used its Android operating system to make Google Search the default search engine and include a number of Google apps as well.

In 2008 the Bush Justice Department threatened to bring an antitrust action against Google, due to a proposed partnership with Yahoo for the sale of advertising. At the time, Google had a 70 percent share of the market, and Yahoo, with 20 percent, was the second largest search engine.

Due to the monopolistic realities of these giant tech companies, startups that might compete with the giants may end up being smothered. For example, an entrepreneurial startup company with products that compete with Google offerings has to be concerned that Google will give its own product a higher ranking and may even hide the new company’s competing products.

This poses a danger to the overall consumer market, because consumers lose the ability to become aware of and/or purchase any innovative products that startup companies might have to offer.

Both Google and Facebook maintain that their companies should not be the subject of antitrust scrutiny, because their product is said to be provided to their users free of charge. However, participants who are obtaining the services for free are not the actual customers of the companies. The real paying customers, in both search and social media, are the advertisers and publishers that pay for the ability to broaden their own pool of consumers.

The argument can be made that the big tech companies, via paid search advertising and paid social media advertising, have morphed into monopolies, and these monopolies have effectively stifled competition and innovation, while having a deleterious effect on the free market economy.