The return of Summer (Daylight Savings) Time to Europe. The end of the Darkness (for a time).
After Christmas I prepared for the 2014 MLB season by watching my recordings from the 2013 World Baseball Classic. This was fun, following the progress of the Netherlands to the semi-finals….but about a week ago I discovered that all of my recordings had been deleted.
This my iptv supplier Telia apparently did because the recordings were from ESPN America, which no longer exists. Why the disappearance of the channel should result in deleting recording files on a harddisk they do not explain, except to say they can’t actively access my harddisk and erase files.
Yet that’s what they did.
ESPN America apparently pulled the plug on August 1, 2013. I didn’t even notice, which perhaps just shows that the channel itself no longer filled a role, at least for baseball fans.
Major League Baseball arrived on European TV screens in 1997 when Britain’s Channel Five started broadcasting the ESPN Sunday Night game live, in the early hours of Monday mornings European time. To explain the game to viewers more familiar with cricket they offered a pair of entertaining and knowledgeable hosts, who introduced the programs and talked during the America commercials.
Best of all, Channel Five’s signal was available on satellite all over Europe. Thanks to the magic of VHS, viewers could record those middle-of-the-night games and watch them at their leisure.
For me, in a pre-World Wide Web era, it meant I could reconnect with baseball after being away from it for years (boxscores in the “International Herald Tribune” was not a good way to stay in touch).
One, and later two games a week, was wonderful, but the whole European baseball fan world changed again in 2002 with the launch of the North American Sports Network, NASN. Carrying American sports around the clock, they had several baseball games every day during the season. Even better, eventually they popped up on our Swedish cable TV offerings, which was handier than relying on satellite.
In 2007 the channel was purchased by ESPN and renamed ESPN America. The baseball offerings remained the same (there was probably a preponderance of relys from ESPN), and I think my only criticism was that they only carried Spring Training from Florida, not from California. They only carried one or two Giants games a month, but that was to be expected when they had to share time among all the teams.
After the 2007 season Channel Five gave up its MLB broadcasts, the ESPN competition was just too much.
Enter the Internet.
The first baseball game I ever listened to live online was on September 6, 1995, when Cal Ripken broke the record for playing in consecutive games. The broadcast from WBAL in Baltimore was carried online in some now outmoded streaming audio format. I had tried to listen to the MLB broadcast using Real Audio, the Seattle Mariners in Real’s hometown, but there was so much demand it was impossible to access.
All this was over a dial-up modem at 14000 baud.
Over the years, with faster Net access, MLB consolidated first Gameday Audio, and then video from virtually every game as MLB.tv. Nowadays, with every Giants game (and those of every other team) available, TV and radio, live and on-demand, not only on my TV (through an app on the set itself as well as in my Apple TV box), but also on my iPad and iPhone, there was no reason to subscribe to ESPN America any more. So I can see why ESPN pulled the plug.
But I did need ESPN America a year ago during the World Baseball Classic. There was no online access to those games, but ESPN America carried them all.
We had just switched from cable to iptv from Telia, connected to their 100 Mb/s fiber network, and upgraded to a box with a recordable harddisk. So I took out the shortest possible subscription to ESPN America (three months) and happily recorded at least ten games, including all I could of the Netherlands, and the semis and finals in San Francisco. (Which I watched there at AT&T Park….When the games ran overtime I could even use the app on my iPhone to extend the recording back in Sweden.)
So these were the recordings I was watching after the Christmas, the ones that have been erased from the harddisk because the originating channel no longer exists. Telia assures me my other recordings are safe (presumeably as long as those channels exist). But this reminds me of the way Amazon suddenly deleted the eBook of “1984” from its Kindle apps around the world.
We have received a wine delivery from Systembolaget, Sweden’s state-owned retail alcohol monopoly. This was extraordinary, but it also reflects the company’s twin missions, to sell alcohol, while at the same time discouraging people from buying alcohol.
Home deliveries as a test began some weeks ago, and were extended to Stockholm in late September and to surrounding communities like ours on October 4. I would have liked to have placed an order on day one, but for various reasons had to wait until October 10. It was then that the two obstacles to home delivery became evident, the transport fee and the long wait for delivery.
Five to seven times the delivery fee
From time to time we order food deliveries from Coop, the Swedish cooperative, one of many grocery chains offering that service. They charge SEK 49 to deliver, with next day delivery (except weekends). Systembolaget charges 5-7 times as much for a delivery as does Coop (outsourced to the mail and package delivery company Bring).
The cost is enough to discourage most people, but the wait seems especially designed to minimize customer interest. The earliest delivery date for my October 10 order was October 29, two and a half weeks later. This apparently to discourage impulse buying.
(And while I was flattered when I was carded buying wine at a Safeway state at the age of 42, twice the drinking age in California, it was a bit weird having my ID checked at the age of 64.)
Forced into it by the pro-temperance Liberals
Systemet was basically forced into home deliveries when EU membership meant that Swedes could order liquor from abroad and have it delivered home. One of the strongest proponents of home deliveries by the monopoly this was Carl B. Hamilton, a veteran Liberal Party MP and a member of Systembolaget’s board of directors. The Liberals are the Swedish party most influenced by the Temperance movement, and while opening up for (highly controlled) home deliveries may initially look counter-intuitive, this was apparently seen by the party as a way to prop up the alcohol monopoly and defend it against a threat.
The other three parties in Sweden’s center-right goverment have somewhat varying approaches to alcohol.
Victory over the Center
In opening up to home deliveries, the Liberals seem to have won out over the Central Party, based traditionally on Sweden’s farmers. This country has a very tiny number of wine producers, all in the south, and most apparently on the island of Gotland. These have been pleading for wine-tasting at their vineyards. This would obviously be a great boon for sales, as currently their wines are only available (sometimes) at nearby state stores. But vineyard wine-tasting would challenge the monopoly (opening the door to more alternatives), and even the proposal for Systemet to be in charge of sales at the vineyards seems to have been rejected.
The very religious Christian Democrat Party wants to be as restrictive as possible about alcohol.
The Conservatives change policy (at least in public)
On the other hand, the Conservatives (conservative Moderates), larger than all the other coalition parties put together, long actively called for the abolition of the monopoly, allowing for private liquor stores and sales of alcohol at grocery store. This was in line with their distrust of public services where private actors could do the job, as seen by their leading the campaign to break up the pharmacy monopoly and for the creation of private profit-taking clinics and schools funded by tthe taxpayers. But something happened when the party began to campaign with the other three parties before the 2004 elections. The Conservatives sought to recast their image as “The new Labor Party”, trying to sell the idea they could adminster the welfare state better than the Social Democrats who had built it.
While pundits and opposition politicians can argue over whether they have actually done that, and their steady decline in the polls since the 2010 elections wold indicate some of the voters no longer accept that image, abandonment of the traditional position on Systembolaget seems to have been part of that image recasting. Private school, clinics, and pharmacies apparently have not disturbed the model, but the restrictive approach to alcohol seems to be too finely ingrained in Swedes to rock the boat over.
Americans dream of being able to access quality TV programming without a cable subscription, and Scandinavia has been the testing ground for the coming services. There have been definate winners and losers here. Netflix has emerged as the victor. HBO Nordic has been a disaster, and Amazon has abandoned us.
Netflix does it right
Last Fall saw the launch of Netflix in Scandinavia, along with HBO Nordic. For those of us with Apple TV, Netflix had an immediate advantage, as it already had an icon on the screen, which worked with our new accounts from day one. Despite initial disapppointment because the offerings weren’t as extensive as in the US, Netflix got it right from the beginning.
HBO showed us first as a channel on service provider Telia’s IPTV service, provoking some complaints from excluded providers. When the service finally did launch online only, with an ios app, there were complaints because rather than the standard trial month, the company wanted users to pay for a full year of service, sight unseen. When they finally gave in to complaints and allowed users to cancel cost-free within the first month, it turned out the app was badly flawed. Besides a confusing and clunky interface, there was no Airplay to get it into an Apple TV, not even the clumsy AIrplay mirroring.
HBO Nordic’s Twitter feed was filled with complaints, and after a few weeks Airplay mirroring was introduced. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. Often the app just crashed. Moreover, the customer service has been a disaster. Since January 2013, the customer service reps on Twitter have been promising that both proper Airplay and an Apple TV app were on the way. Day after day they made this promise. By summer, when neither promise had been fullfiled, there had been a glaring change in the HBO Nordic Twitter feed. Instead of many tweets every day answering questions from interested customers, HBO Nordic was tweeting every day or two. Sometimes a week would go by between tweets. The people they were supposed to be interfacing with had simply gone away.
During this period the HBO Go app launched on the Apple TV. But, unlike the Netflix app, it doesn’t work with Nordic accounts. Asked why Netflix could accomplish this while HBO could not, the customer service reps waffled.
The rest of the pack
There are a handful of similar services here that offer TV programming to tablets and computers, like Viaplay and Filmnet, and Telia’s own Telia Play Plus. None seem to have as many offerings as Netflix (but they all seem to vary and are worthwhile comparing if one is interested in a particular genre, some may be better at Swedish programs or European film, for example), and none are capable of actually getting a TV image into a TV set.
If one is satisfied with watching programs on a tablet, then all of these services are adequate. But the lack of Airplay just makes them all seem incomplete.
Then there is Amazon. Many years ago, when Netflix only mailed DVDs to customers, a similar service started here in Sweden, called Brafilm (“bra” is Swedish for “good”). Eventually it was bought up by a similar company in Britain called Lovefilm, which in turn was bought by Amazon.
Along the way, British Lovefilm followed Netflix in making films available online and via apps, and today the Amazon-run operation is much like Netflix, with its entire library viewable online and on TV sets via Airplay. During this period, the Swedish Lovefilm made a handful of films available online (basically a “film of the week”), and never introduced Airplay. Faced with the arrival of Netflix and HBO Nordic in Scandinavia, instead of rising to the challenge, Amazon took its marbles and went home, closing the Swedish Lovefilm.
This was been devastating. Even if they hadn’t gone online, the DVDs by mail operation was unique in the region, and based on a huge library. There are many many films and TV programs that Swedish Lovefilm carried that are just not available from the new online services. Now, the only way to get such films is to rent or buy them from the dwindling number of DVD shops.
So, the cord-cutting future is here in Scandinavia, and some companies are dealing with it better than others. But if I was in America, I wouldn’t get too optimistic about HBO. They seem to be terribly flawed.
I very much like the TV series CSI, but I stopped watching after William Petersen left the series after 9 seasons. His Gil Grisson character, with hints of Aspbergers, was fascinating. It wasn’t the same show without him. But I got very excited about episode 300, which was billed as:
“On tonight’s “CSI” season 14 episode 5, “Frame by Frame,” Catherine Willows returns to help the CSIs solve a cold case that has haunted the team for 14 years.”
There were indications online that Marg Helgenberger, who played Catherine Williams until last year, was going to return and recruit the George Eads character Nick Stokes into joining her at the FBI. Plus, even if William Petersen wasn’t going to be there, it was still going to be an homage of some sort.
None of that happened. Catherine Willows didn’t return to the lab, she was there in flashbacks. (Newly shot, but still Catherine didn’t return.) And there was no Nick Stokes at all, George Eads wasn’t even in the episode (being on a leave of absence after a disagreement with a writer). Plus the 30 second montage at the end that was apparently supposed to be the Grissom homage, was too short and just disappointing. Grissom deserved more.
On top of all that, there was a continuity flaw. In one of the flashbacks, placed 14 years in the past, Catherine Willows is giving CSI Greg Sanders advice about working in the field. But 14 years ago, in the show’s first season, Sanders was in the lab as a DNA tech, and didn’t move to the field until season five.
As a normal CSI episode it was fine (except Ted Danson’s character is no Grissom), but it certainly didn’t live up to the hype.
The 3 liter boxes of the wine sold as California White are no longer available at Sweden’s state monopoly liquor stores, the only place you can buy wine over the counter in the country. This is sad because it was a decent and inexpensive table wine from California.
Not a great wine for weekend parties, but a nice wine for drinking at dinner.
Not long ago this was described as the stores’ most popular product. Yesterday I was told in a store that it had been removed because there was so little demand.
What happrned? At the height of its popularity the wine had a different name. It was called Golden Gate. But a company in California sued over name infringement. The weird thing was the company was not called Golden Gate, it was called Golden State.
I don’t know, but I wonder if the Swedish judge just didn’t understand the difference?
Otherwise it was the same wine in the same box, with a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge. But obviously California White didn’t give the same feeling.
While the 3 liter boxes are off the shelves, the smaller 750 ml cartons remain, at least for the time being. And the large boxes remain in Systembolaget’s catalog, so they can be ordered. Right now that means pick up in a store, but within the next two weeks Systembolaget is opening up its home delivery service.
The delivery cost is excessive, apparently part of their mission to discourage alcohol consumption while holding the monopoly on its sale. But eventually one might be able to get a bunch of boxes of California White delivered to your door.