How do you define best?

I tweeted this earlier:

Most of the time, the right thing to do is also the most difficult. If you want the best results, you have to do the hard things.

I believe that statement, but it sounds a bit like a pat answer. I’ve done what I truly believed were the right things, but I never saw the results I thought I should see. And it would be easy for me to give up on doing the right things if they aren’t paying off.

Trusting God isn’t easy. It’s downright frustrating most of the time. I don’t see what he sees, I don’t know what he knows, and most of the time I can’t wrap my mind around what he’s trying to do.

And so I wrestle with what I see around me, in spite of the decisions I’ve made and the actions I’ve taken that I knew in my heart were the right things at the time. Because what I see is not what I expected.

I don’t really know where this path is taking me. I can’t predict the future. I can’t see where this ends up.

But, still I believe. I follow the guidance I get. I keep doing the difficult things, blindly moving toward an unknown destination. God’s idea of best for me, isn’t mine.

My “best” is littered with lofty ideals about what will make me happy, what will provide the things I want. But He knows what I need. He knows what He wants to make of me.

So sometimes those difficult things lead to even more difficult things. I reach the top of one ledge to see an even higher ledge in front of me. I’m weary of climbing sometimes, but walking the path He gives me, climbing the mountain He puts in front of me, He gives me strength. In the middle of frustration, he provides me peace. In the middle of my perceived lack, he gives me contentment. And I’m walking through a fire that will not burn me, but it will loose my bonds. I’m surrounded by heaviness, but somehow I feel lighter.

And I have to surrender. I can’t wrestle with Him and fight through my circumstances too. He’s not the one who is against me. I need to have him with me to face what’s ahead.

And so when he nudges me toward a path that seems insurmountable, I move, and he moves with me. We’re doing this together.

And that is what is best.

Giving Grace

Living grace is giving grace. Especially in close relationships.

We are not always perfect in love. We do not always consider the feelings or well-being of others in our decisions. We do not always realize how our words and actions affect others. We are all going to make mistakes. We are not always going to love perfectly.

It’s sometimes easier for me to forgive the bigger things, while the small things are what get to me the most. The times when harsh words are spoken. When promises are not kept. When expectations aren’t met.

Things like this make me want to strike back somehow. And I prefer a passive-aggressive approach to making my disappointment known.

But refusing to give grace in these situations is saying that I will not ever need the same kind of grace. I am putting myself above reproach; I am saying that I am better than the person who has let me down in some way. I am letting my pride get the best of me.

Love is not proud. Love is patient, and love suffers long. Real love is painful, it makes you vulnerable; open to being hurt by those you love. It is loving though the pain, the disappointments and the failures. It is giving grace when none is deserved.

And I cannot expect to get the grace that I need, if I am not willing to give it.

RedBox Taking the Lead in the Video Rental Showdown

I’m not sure if Netflix(or should I say Quikster?) is worried about losing DVD rental subscribers. I think they may be angling to get out of the DVD-by-mail business, eventually. Netflix has a bigger battle to fight, and that is with their online streaming content foes, and it is going to be a tough road.

Some Netflix customers already cancelled their DVD rental plans as a result of the de facto price increase. I think a whole lot more will cancel when Netflix separates the DVD website from the streaming website, and makes it somewhat more inconvenient for customers to make their rental selections.

But, there is a RedBox kiosk seemingly on every corner. Customers can easily log on to the Redbox website or phone app, check movie availability and reserve their copy. It beats visiting a Blockbuster store and hoping they have what you want, when you want it. And getting that movie from Redbox is a whole lot cheaper.  For a vigilant and cost-conscious customer, they can get probably twice as many rentals in a month from a Redbox than they would ever be able to get with a mail service, for about the same amount of money. Plus, they can get them when they want them, which means they are most likely going to watch them right away, instead of getting them in the middle of the week and leaving them lying on the counter for a few days.

If the streaming services continue to struggle for content, especially more recent content, they could easily start to see their subscriber numbers fall off, and customers may start using that more Redbox rentals.

Sure, Redbox doesn’t have new releases on day one, but in the current economy, most people aren’t going to suffer through the inconvenience of Blockbuster stores, not to mention the prices, to get them. And customers certainly aren’t buying the new releases, since the latest sales numbers continue to show a downward trend.

I think that at least in the short-term, Redbox is going to make a killing. And if they are smart, they will continue to install those kiosks at every available location to take advantage of it.

What if I Just Don’t Want To Talk To You?

We live in an extremely connected world.

There was a time, in which, if you wished to call someone on the telephone and that someone was not within physical proximity of the telephone (which was likely mounted to a wall or sitting on a table), that someone would not be able to answer your call.  You might let the telephone ring three or four times, and then, you would hang up.  You might try again later, if it was important enough.

Back then, there were a number of accepted-as-valid reasons for not answering the telephone.  Some families didn’t answer the phone during dinner, or during homework time. Some families didn’t allow their children to answer the phone, and if a present adult was indisposed, no one would answer.  And no one answering was an acceptable outcome.

There was also a certain amount of courtesy associated with telephone communication. There was almost an attitude that a telephone call was somewhat of an intrusion, and those making the calls would take that into account.  This influenced when, and how often they would call. They wouldn’t call after the childrens’ bedtimes or during nap times or dinner times, unless there was an urgent reason to do so.

The advent of the answering machine changed this, but only slightly, in that, callers no longer had to hang up when no one answered, but they could leave a message for their intended recipient.

As technology has progressed, we seem to have been conditioned to expect near-instantaneous communication all the time. And, since we have more avenues with which to connect with people, a lot of the courtesy we used to have, seems to have gone out the window.

In non-emergency situations, I have personally witnessed someone trying to call a cell phone (leaving no message), then a home phone (leaving no message), then sending a text, followed by a Facebook message, all in the space of minutes. Some might even extend that to Twitter and an email.

I think this over-reaching in communication attempts stems in part from the receivers’ lack of responsiveness. Since people don’t respond to messages, the messenger will take multiple avenues to try to make contact (even if it is not urgent). It also comes, I think, as a result of living in a world where there are multiple available processes for near real-time communication, resulting in a severe lack of patience.

But, what if I just don’t want to talk to you right now? What if I’m busy, working through something important or trying to spend time in person with my family or a friend?  What if I don’t feel like talking right now? What if I just want to be alone for a bit?

I propose we institute two very simple communication rules and bring back common courtesy in communication:

  • If you are trying to get in touch with someone, and don’t get them right away, you can leave them a message on one of any of their contact points (voice mail, text, email, messenger app or social network).
  • The person being contacted should respond within a reasonable amount of time.

And all of us should learn a little more patience.

Are you an over-reaching communicator? Or are you a lazy responder? Or both?

Beyond Another Chance

We exist in a fallen condition. And sometimes, despite our best efforts, we fail. We have faults that we struggle to overcome that sometimes get the better of us. The pressures of life push us pass the breaking point.

Grace. We all need it. It is the highest form of clemency; that God would receive us to himself in spite of our shortcomings. That he would grant us another chance when we’ve failed miserably. That He would love us, in spite of what he knows about us, both present and future.

We celebrate the idea of the second chance, the ability to rise up and dust ourselves off after a fall. But, I think sometimes we sell grace short. Grace is more than just a do-over.

Grace is alternately defined as “the divine assistance and power given to man.” The same power that wipes the slate clean is the power that can enable you to live above your faults and failures. It is the hope that we do not have to be subject to the influence of our weaknesses.

Grace holds together the brokenness. Grace strengthens the weakness. Grace fills the emptiness. It enables us to live with ability that is not ours.

Sometimes, we have to exist with the brokenness; to live in spite of the weakness. But, we do not have to be defined by it.

His grace is sufficient.

Ending the Cable and Satellite TV Monopoly

We all know the big media companies are hesitant to fully embrace on-demand streaming for all of their programming, due to the loss in advertising revenue.

Customers are looking to cut the cable cord and/or eliminate their satellite services due to the continuing increases in cost with very little added value. Most customers can’t get the exactly what they want out of their services without paying for one of the huge programming ‘bundles’ which usually includes a lot of stuff they don’t want. And the providers don’t look to be willing to offer any reasonable a la carte options that would allow a customer to save money while getting the programming they want.

Even though services like Hulu offer options for watching programming after it’s first run (days to over a week, depending), in a lot of cases, customers want live television, especially for popular shows and sporting events. This leaves a opening in the market for a different type of streaming television service, that streams live television over the internet to internet connected televisions and video devices (because people want to watch television on their television, without the hassle of a computer).

There are already IP television services from communications companies like AT&T and Verizon, but they generally follow the same model that traditional services follow; set top box rentals/purchases and similar programming bundles. A new type of service needs to emerge (like Netflix or Hulu) that is independent of the companies that own the pipes. This type of service would work thusly:

It would run as an application on existing internet connected televisions, and video devices like Roku boxes and video game consoles.

It would broadcast live television channels selectable through an onscreen guide.

It would offer the ability for customers to subscribe to individual channels for a reasonable price, and to change those subscriptions on the fly with no penalty. You would only pay for what you watch.

It would offer on-demand video similar to current services as well as pay-per-view, but also offer on-demand pricing for single television programs and events (imagine buying access to the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals or the Grammy Awards, even if you don’t subscribe to that particular network).

It would be able to provide access to local television stations broadcasts.

It would offer a ‘virtual DVR’ service, where customers could save shows to watch at a later time, on their schedule.

It would allow for customers to watch television on their phones, tablet and/or computers as well.

A service like this would finally provide customers with the kind of flexibility and value that they are looking for their television entertainment. Since this service does not have to maintain a physical connection to the home, there would be no overhead for installs, repairs, or maintenance for the ‘wires’ – this should allow for a lower price for the service. It would also allow customers to take their service anywhere they can take their video device and connect to the internet. As cell phone data networks continue to get faster and better able to handle a larger traffic volume, it would even be possible to use the service in vehicles.

Will something like this ever happen? It’s unlikely in the short term, due mostly to the fact that many of the large television networks are owned by or partner with the larger of the service providers (e.g. Comcast owns NBC).  But a guy can dream, can’t he? (Note: Microsoft is taking a step in this direction by apparently integrating television from Comcast or Verizon into their Xbox Live service. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the long term).

Would you be interested in a service like this? What would you add to make it better?


Netflix and the Future of Streaming Video

I’ve been a loyal Netflix subscriber for several years now. When Netflix introduced streaming movies and television shows for free as part of my current DVD subscription plan, I knew they were moving to fill a demand that entertainment customers had been dreaming about since the inception of the internet.

When Netflix capable set-top boxes released, and game consoles added a Netflix app, I was certain that Netflix was about to assume near total domination of the streaming entertainment market.

Sadly, I am now afraid that Netflix might be undoing itself right before our very eyes, and unfortunately taking with it the kind of streaming video service that consumers everywhere want.

The success of any streaming media service hinges on one thing – content. If there is not sufficient content, customers will not subscribe. The availability of content hinges on Netflix’s ability to secure licensing agreements with the companies that own the content.

The key ingredient in Netflix having the ability to be successful in negotiations with those content owners boils down to one thing – subscribers.

Subscribers ultimately supply Netflix with the money to pay the licensing fees to the content owners. But they also give Netflix a certain amount of bargaining power in the entertainment industry. Being the strongest and most well-known movie rental and streaming company in the U.S. provides Netflix with an enormous amount of clout when dealing with the industry.

Since Netflix separated its streaming and DVD-by-mail services and effectively raised the prices for all of its customers, thousands of customers have cancelled their subscriptions outright and many others have downgraded. Netflix already had to downgrade their subscriber growth numbers for this quarter by 1 million subscribers. In the process, Netflix has lost a lot of customer good will, and their brand is taking a beating in the media and on social networks.

Adding to these troubles is the loss of several content deals (most recently Starz) that continue to reduce the amount of content available for streaming. And most current customers continue to complain that the amount of content available now is not nearly enough to justify what they are paying for the service.

All of this is working to degrade Netflix’s position of power in the marketplace, which will make it that much more difficult for them to negotiate with the content owners, especially if they are given the impression that Netflix is on a downturn.

The most troubling thing, is that as Netflix continues to slide, there are not many alternatives. And of the alternatives, none of them are really any better. None of the other similar services has nearly as many total titles available for streaming. Some have similar content. Some have a handful of different content that may or may not be newer (and newer content not available for streaming is one of the biggest complaints toward any streaming service).

The real truth is that the content owners do not want consumers to have a service available to them that allows them to stream any movie or television show anytime they want. The content owners want to sell you piles and piles of overpriced plastic discs that can be damaged, and have to be replaced at full price. They want to then re-release the same content in another format years later so you will buy another overpriced plastic disc again. Or, they want you watching their live television broadcast or streaming from their sites or apps, so that they can charge large amounts of money to advertisers. The content owners want to maintain the status quo at all costs and control all of the revenue streams.

I’m afraid that if Netflix goes down, the prospect of a single streaming service providing access to all of the content that we as consumers want goes down with it.