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Let’s Go Mets!

October 9th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Schubin Snacks


As this is being written, the New York Mets are still contenders for the 2015 baseball championship. They won in 1969 and 1986 after having the worst record in 162-game major-league-season history when they first took the field.

NY_MetropolitansWhen the team was founded, it was the Metropolitan Baseball Club of New York, a name that originally belonged to a team that, in 1882, accepted offers to join both the National League and the American Association. The owners got around that problem by buying another team and calling them the New York Gothams. The Gothams became the Giants, and it was their move to San Francisco, in part, that led to the formation of the current Mets. In between the 19th-century Mets and the current team, the Metropolitan Opera’s baseball team was also known as the Metropolitans or Mets.

Mr. Met in 2009Although not often in first place, the Mets have the distinction of having baseball’s first official live human mascot, Mr. Met, who appeared at their first game at their home at Shea Stadium in 1964. The English word was coined when Edmond Audran’s opera La mascotte, which had opened successfully in Paris at the Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens on December 29, 1880, was imported to Boston’s Gaiety Theatre, where it opened in 1881 on April 12 as The Mascot. The root of the French word referred to a witch, but the opera was about a woman who brought luck to a farmer.

The original Mets accepting offers from two major leagues at the same time was an echo of what happened when the opera moved to New York at two opera houses, the Bijou on May 5 and the Park on May 9. At the end of the overture on May 5, a man announced from the stage that at 6 pm an injunction had been served on the tenor, preventing his appearance, and named his replacement. The audience “was good-natured and sympathized with the management,” according to the next day’s positive review in The New York Times, and gave the substitute “favor, it being generally understood that he had never even rehearsed the opera and had thrown himself into the breach to save the piece.”

1881-12-31 Punch MascotteThe very successful opera continued to open in more cities — two different opera houses in Chicago, too. In London, it opened at the New Comedy Theatre on October 15. On December 21, the United Telephone Company Limited threw a dinner party at London’s Bristol Hotel for the purpose of listening to The Mascotte via telephone, an introduction to pay cable. By 1882, the year the first Mets joined major-league baseball, the opera was being transmitted from the Theatre Royal in Preston, England, to Manchester, a distance of some 30 miles.

Let’s go, Mets!


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Where Did The Newscast Come From?

October 7th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Download, Schubin Cafe


Where Did The Newscast Come From?
SMPTE DC Bits-by-the-Bay, Chesapeake Beach Resort
May 20, 2015

Direct Link (16 MB / TRT 8:14):
Where Did The Newscast Come From?


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Baseball & Opera? Opera & Baseball?

November 6th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Download, Schubin Cafe

Recorded Wednesday, October 29, 2014. A free event for National Opera Week 2014 at GoingGoingGoneSports Gallery at the Atrium at Citigroup Center in New York City (with special thanks to Boston Properties and WorldStage).

Babe Ruth sang in opera houses.  The manager of the Metropolitan Opera House wears a World Series ring.  Baseball fans started watching remote games in opera houses beginning in 1885.  Opera fans went to ballparks to hear their favorites starting in 1916.

Direct Link (78 MB / 44:55  TRT): Baseball & Opera? Opera & Baseball?


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Live 4k Streaming (for opera, of course)


The first commercial digital sound recording was of an opera. The first live television subtitles were for opera. And, now, live 4k opera streamed over the Internet.

2014 Elemental Vienna 4K Nabucco

At 7 pm Central European Time on Wednesday, May 7, the Wiener Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera) will transmit Verdi’s opera Nabucco, with Placido Domingo in the title role. Elemental Technologies’ high-efficiency video coding (HEVC) will be used to stream the event over the Internet in 4k resolution, using MPEG-DASH, for viewing around the world. It will also be sent to a 65” Samsung UHD TV at the opera house. A Wiener Staatsoper app with built-in time shifting will allow users to view it live or at 7 pm in their local time zone.

1180538626209Wiener Staatsoper produces more than 40 live broadcasts annually and is making almost all of its 2014/2015 season productions accessible to viewers via the Internet on smart TVs and mobile devices. “Our multicreen offer, VOD [video-on-demand] services, and user-selectable two-channel live program provide new and exciting ways for fans to experience the arts with the highest levels of accessibility and artistry,” said Christopher Widauer, the opera company’s director of digital development. Elemental provides the technology for Wiener Staatsoper’s live and VOD streaming services and supports another of the opera company’s apps, which provides synchronized subtitles and even a synchronized music score. The 4k Nabucco workflow was designed by Elemental partner ETAS High Tech Hardware Systems GmbH, and the streams will be managed by Ooyalah via Samsung applications.

1881 Scientific American Ader Fig 3Opera companies have a long history of technological development. Before Avatar, Opéra de Rennes transmitted Mozart’s Don Giovanni live to movie theaters in high-definition stereoscopic 3D. Believe it or not, opera was responsible for the invention of electronic home entertainment (1880), stereo sound transmission (1881), pay cable (1885), consumer headphones (no later than 1888), newscasts (1893), sound movies (1894), stereo broadcasting (1925), stereo networking (1973), and alternative content for stadium displays (2007).  Almost no matter whom you pick as the inventor of movies (Edison, Jenkins, Le Prince), their purpose was opera (1886-88).  And an opera house was responsible for the development of the techniques of sportscasting (1886). Really!

DSC01695Opera was also present at the inception of electrical robotics (1894), broadcasting (1900), music synthesis (1906), entertainment radio (1906-7), television (1928-1934, proposed in 1882), live alternative content for cinema (1952, proposed in 1877 — before there was such a thing as cinema), widescreen movies (1952), and international satellite broadcasting (1967). In the 17th century, opera stage technology allowed complete scene changes to take place in full view of the audience in a matter of seconds; in the 21st century, opera companies are using live, interactive digital projection with edge stitching, image warping, and even real-time depth-plane selection.

Wiener Staatsoper is part of that tradition of technological innovation. Some of the first buildings lit by electricity were opera houses, and, because there were no power companies at the time, they had their own generators and shared their output. The first X-ray machine at Boston Children’s Hospital was powered from a local opera house. Before that, flame-based lighting could be dangerous, so Wiener Staatoper had its own 21-person fire department and helped pioneer fire extinguishers, so they “could assure patrons of artistic performances that Elemental-Logo-4cwere both stunning and safe,” according John Nemeth, VP of sales EMEA for Elemental. “Elemental is honored to support Vienna State Opera in its on-going technology innovation to increase access to the arts.”

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Opera Was Alive and Well in NYC in 2013

December 30th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Opera-Media Servings


As some of you might recall, I like to promote the idea that New York City is one of the great opera capitals of the world. In August, I had the idea of listing every opera performed in New York City in a year, and, even though 2013 was more than 2/3 over, I decided to pick it. It’s quite possible I’ve missed some performances, especially from the early part of the year; those would only make the numbers larger.

There are three separate lists: the operas (including company, venue, composer, and year of first performance), NYC’s active opera companies, and venues used. There are opera companies on the operas list that do not appear on the opera-companies list because they are either based outside New York City (e.g., Les Arts Florissants) or not normally in the business of presenting opera (e.g., Jewish Theological Seminary). Similarly, there are opera companies on the opera-companies list that are not on the operas list because, even though they are currently active (e.g. Empire Opera), they did not present an opera within the five boroughs of New York City during 2013. An appendix to the venues list offers some current large theatrical auditoriums previously used for opera in NYC but not in 2013.

2013Here are some of the statistics: In 2013 in New York City there were 804 performances of 243 productions of about 190 operas by 126 composers in 95 venues presented by 91 companies or combinations of companies. The about is because there were some very different versions of some of the operas (e.g., Mahagonny and a staged version of Mahagonny Songspiel).

Of the 365 days in 2013, there were only 50 on which it was not possible to see a live, in-person opera performance in New York City. January was best: on every day it was possible to attend a live, in-person opera performance. On some of those 50 days, there were recitals by opera singers, galas featuring segments of operas, libretto readings, operas just outside the borders of the city, and opera in cinemas.

The Metropolitan Opera undoubtedly sold the most tickets (sales figures are carefully guarded) and had the most performances (212) of the most operas (34). It’s possible that New York City Opera was second to the Met in ticket sales. In performances, New York Opera Forum came second (71). In operas, it was New York Lyric Opera (16). New York Opera Forum offered performances in the most venues (9).

composersIn his bicentennial year, Verdi got 16 productions of ten of his operas in New York City. In his bicentennial year, Wagner got eight productions of five of his operas. And, in his centennial year, Britten got seven productions of five of his operas. But the composer with the most productions in NYC in 2013 was Mozart, with 17 productions of seven of his operas.

In 2013 in NYC there were operas presented that were first performed in every half century from about 1639 to date. Forty-six operas either premiered in 2013 or were performed while still in progress. Another 12 operas performed in NYC in 2013 (including one at the Met) premiered in 2011 or 2012. Twenty-four of New York City’s 92 active opera companies (and at least two New York City theatrical organizations that aren’t opera companies) are involved in developing new operas; and that doesn’t count the Jewish Theological Seminary’s involvement in developing a new opera performed in NYC in 2013.

It was possible in 2013 to spend a lot of money on a premium ticket to a NYC opera house. Or one could have been an elderly resident of an assisted-living facility, unable to get to an opera house, yet able to attend live opera performed in that same facility. Or one could have been unable to afford an opera ticket yet able to attend live opera performed without admission charge in a local public library. And, even at the Met, one could have spent as little as $20 for a subsidized ticket for a very good seat.

Here are links to .pdfs of the three lists. Each has its own introductory comments and notes.

Operas Performed in NYC in 2013

Opera Companies Active in NYC in 2013

Opera Venues in NYC in 2013

For those interested in a technology-oriented history of opera in New York City (and the Miracles on 39th Street), here’s another link.

NYC Media-Tech Opera History

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The Fandom of the Opera

November 3rd, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Download, Schubin Cafe


The Fandom of the Opera: How the Audience for a Four-Century-Old Art Form Helped Create the Modern Media World

A National Opera Week event at the National Opera Center, 330 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY on October 29, 2013.

Do you think television was introduced in 1939?  There was an opera broadcast on TV in 1934, and the idea of live televised operas dates back to 1877.

The first electronic home entertainment (1880) was opera.  The first stereo sound transmission (1881) was opera.  Consumer headphones, pay-cable, movies — even newscasts and sportscasts — were all invented for opera.  Really!

Watch this brief National Opera Week event to learn some of the details.  17th-century sound transmission?  18th-century motion-picture projection and robots?

Video (TRT 55:27)

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“No opera, no X-rays!”

December 18th, 2012 | No Comments | Posted in Opera-Media Servings

The headline above was as surprising to me as it might be to you. Here’s the story.

The first published information about x-rays, Wilhelm Röntgen’s “Über eine neue Art von Strahlen” (“About a new kind of rays”), was submitted on December 28, 1895. By April of the following year Dr. Ernest Amory Codman had already been qualified in a Boston court as an “Expert in X-ray.” At right is an X-ray image he took of Henry Pickering Bowditch’s elbow at around that time. It shows bullet fragments from a shot that hit Bowditch in the forearm during the U.S. Civil War.

Bowditch was a physiologist who ran the lab where Codman worked. He was also the father of Codman’s future wife, Katherine, a promoter of birth control and women’s suffrage.

As for Codman, he worked on X-rays at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he eventually compiled an X-ray atlas of the human body.  But that wasn’t the only hospital where he worked.

Codman was the first “skiagrapher” (shadow printer, what we’d today call a radiologist) at Boston Children’s Hospital. He was succeeded by Dr. Percy Emerson Brown, author of the headline above. Dr. Brown established what was then called the Department of Roentgenology there. He became president of the American Roentgen Ray Society and is probably most famous for the book American Martyrs to Science through the Roentgen Rays. Brown, himself, suffered some amputations as a result of his X-ray work.

So, did a disgruntled Dr. Brown refuse to make radiological images unless he got opera tickets? Was he so upset that he swore off both opera and radiology? No, it was more basic. An x-ray tube requires electricity, something opera houses had before there were power companies.

Here’s his full quote: “The first X-ray department at the Children’s was limited in its function by reason of the fact that the hospital was not equipped with electric current, and was obliged to obtain its power from the Opera House nearby. A wire was run from the Opera House to the Hospital, but when there was no music there was no current. No opera, no X-rays!”

The story of why opera houses had their own electric generators deserves its own post, and, when you read it, you might never look at a candle the same way ever again. In the meantime, if you, like me, think “No opera, no X-rays!” makes a great slogan, check out this shop:


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A Baseball-Opera Chronology

July 12th, 2012 | No Comments | Posted in Opera-Media Servings


“Who Would Doubt That I’m A Man,” sheet music for a baseball song from an 1895 opera

I often write about the history of media technology. So why is this post about the joint history of baseball and opera?

It’s because a good chunk of that history — roughly half a century — was devoted to unusual forms of media technology. It offered broadcasting before radio, live remote visual display of moving images before television, animatronics before electronics, and public-address announcements before loudspeakers.

Beginning in the 19th century (see headline above from The Atlanta Constitution in 1886), fans could go to their local opera house to watch remote baseball games. And, in the 21st century, fans can go to their local baseball stadium (below) to watch remote opera. Really!

32,000 fans watch San Francisco Opera’s Aida at AT&T Park in 2010 (photo by Cory Weaver)

I’ll be posting more on the media technology soon, after an article about it appears in the fall issue of Sports Technology Journal.  In the meantime, you may download and enjoy this brief chronology. Click on the link below.

Some Opera and Baseball


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April 27, 2012 (Update) – “The Fandom of the Opera,” NYU-Polytechnic Institute, Pfizer Auditorium, Brooklyn, NY (collateral added April 26/May 23)

April 26th, 2012 | No Comments | Posted in Download, Today's Special

Update: Now contains video of presentation.

April 27, 2012, 10:45 am
“The Fandom of the Opera”
Morawetz Distinguished Science Lecture
NYU-Polytechnic Institute, Pfizer Auditorium, Brooklyn, NY


Collateral for this lecture:


Videos of this lecture:

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The Alternatives

March 25th, 2012 | No Comments | Posted in Schubin Cafe


At next month’s SMPTE/NAB Technology Summit on Cinema in Las Vegas, one session will be devoted to “Alternative Content.” What’s that? It’s complicated.

One hundred years ago, the 1912 World Series was quite an event. In the history of baseball, it was the only best-of-seven World Series to have eight games. But the picture above, from the excellent Shorpy site,, is confusing.

The World Series was a contest between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Giants, and it was played, as might be expected, at Fenway Park and the Polo Grounds, respectively, in those cities. But the crowd above was in Washington, D.C. What were they looking at?

They were looking at a scoreboard (, shown above. If that seems ridiculous, consider 1912. There was no Internet. There were no TV or radio sportscasts. Just about the only way to keep track of the game was to hang around a newspaper office, where reports received by telegraph would be posted.

Even in 1912, it was a pretty old idea. The New York State Oswego Daily Times reported on May 23, 1876 about “a group of Syracusans” keeping track of an away game by gathering “around the baseball bulletin.” In 1888, Edward Sims Van Zile filed a patent application for a “Bulletin-Board and Base-Ball Indicator”

By 1895, the fans had moved indoors. Frank Chapman’s “Automatic Baseball by Electricity” opened at Palmer’s Theatre in New York City that July. According to a lengthy report about the apparatus in the August 7 issue of The Electrical Engineer, the stage was turned into a ball park. “All the players have their proper positions on the big field, and are represented by dummy marionettes, true to the life and about 3 feet high,” moving according to the action being telegraphed from the real game. In 1907, Buffalo’s Garden Theatre offered an “electric baseball diagram.” In 1908, it was the 1750-sear Gotham Theatre in New York City.

Thanks to Shorpy, again (, above is a view of what audiences at Washington’s National Theater saw of the Coleman Life-Like Scoreboard in 1924 (some version had been in use there since 1913, before that a Jackson scoreboard, and before that a Rodier). Below ( is what it looked like backstage with its five operators.

When people went to a theater in 1909 to watch a game via the Rodier Electric Baseball Game Reproducer (“which set Atlantic City wild”), they paid admission prices of 25 and 50 cents. The same year, as the photo at left, taken in Detroit, clearly indicates (, the admission price for a typical movie theater was just five cents (thus the name Harry Davis and John Harris gave in 1905 to the first theater dedicated to showing nothing but movies, Nickelodeon).

Not only could theaters charge five-to-ten times the price of a movie to provide some sort of community access to a remote event, but they filled up, too. In Washington, D.C. in 1914, viewers could “attend” different baseball games at the Bijou, Columbia, Cosmos, Gayety, Keith’s, National, and Poli’s theaters, and, if one of those was busy with a play, the equipment was moved into an armory. In New York, the Coleman Life-Like Scoreboard was also set up in an armory, as well as in Madison Square Garden.

The previous post here (on theatrical television) noted that opera was proposed for transmission to theaters in 1877 and has been carried live to ball parks ( In 1914, the opposite occurred. The Providence Opera House installed a Coleman Life-Like Scoreboard for baseball-game viewers (in 1931, the Tuscon Opera House was still offering viewers the opportunity to “watch” the World Series on a Playograph). And, in the same year of 1914, Archibald Low demonstrated a crude form of television in London.

In 1925, Low published a book called The Future. In that book, he described (and showed an image of) viewers in London watching car races transmitted from Australia live (right).

After theatrical television systems became reality, audiences flocked to see those. And just what did they go to see? “Television,” as the poster at left indicates. Even as late as 1948, Alfred N. Goldsmith wrote in the Journal of the Society of Motion-Picture Engineers, “Television pictures in theaters will, initially, at least, have the strong appeal of novelty.”

The first content to be described as other than just “television” was the Epsom Derby in 1932, followed by an international transmission that brought a Danish film star’s image home from London. In 1936, the Olympic Games in Berlin were seen in television-viewing theaters like the one shown at right. In 1941, theatrical viewers saw live boxing and (finally) baseball; in 1952, they saw their first live opera, a Metropolitan Opera production of Carmen, seen in 31 cinemas in 27 cities (below).

Plays, football, basketball, symphony concerts, and even Presidential addresses were soon added. Results seemed, initially at least, very promising. U.S. News & World Report noted in 1949, “By 1952, most important theaters are expected to be equipped with television screens.” The Billboard reported on February 9, 1952 about a recent boxing match sent to theaters. “The State-Lake Theater in Chicago was the scene of a near riot, with disappointed people in the long line smashing down the doors in an effort to see the showing.”

When Life magazine looked at the field on January 5, 1953, however, less than a year later (when theatrical television was sometimes called closed-circuit TV), the report was not as glowing. Considering a carpet convention replaced by theatrical television (below), they quoted an unhappy “Midwest rug dealer” who missed the face-to-face get-together. “How else can I get away from my wife for five days?”

This was their description of the success of the opera transmission. “Like most others, this Denver theater was not sold out. Many of them lost money on the opera.” And their comments on the technical quality were even worse. “The moviegoers… heard the music distorted, often sounding like a worn-out record. Faces of singers became ghostly blobs, and their figures were so elongated that one critic saw ‘people resembling overripe bananas.’ Color was sadly missed.” The carpet convention, too, “suffered from poor picture images and lack of color.”

Perhaps surprisingly, then, the comment cards filled out by viewers, available for inspection at the Metropolitan Opera Archives, are almost uniformly positive, even at a theater that was briefly accidentally switched to TV-network programming (TV stations had to forego their network feeds to allow the opera transmission through). Why? Possibly crowd mentality and cognitive dissonance. In a theater, if no one else complains, why should you? As for the dissonance, if you pay a lot for a ticket (up to about $65 in today’s money), dress up, hire a babysitter, travel to the theater, and don’t like the show, you were stupid to expend so much time, money, and effort, so maybe it wasn’t so bad.

Regarding the financial failure, it was of its time. In 1952, there were about 2.7 billion movie tickets sold in the U.S.; in 2011, it was less than 1.3 billion. At the same time, the U.S. population grew from 158 million to 312 million, so people went to about four times as many movies back then. And movie theaters were larger, many with more seats than the opera house. If the theaters could fill those seats with movies and not with opera, then the latter was a failure.

Whatever the reason, theatrical television in the 1950s (like that era’s 3D movies) was not a lasting success. Movie studios dropped plans, and few movie theaters were equipped. When Theater Network Television, the first and largest theatrical television distributor, transmitted its 75th event, in 1954, a General Motors celebration of the production of their 50-millionth vehicle, the viewing venues included Carnegie Hall but also conference rooms in 52 hotels.

Today is a different era. Instead of being called theatrical television or closed circuit, the field is now “alternative content,” cinemas are equipped for non-film-based projection, and, perhaps due to its institutional nature and fan base, opera has become the number-one alternative content worldwide.

What is alternative content? Consider the matrix at left from the web site of BY EXPERIENCE HD, which calls itself “Pioneers of Global Live Cinema Events.” It includes operas, plays, radio shows, talks (including a talk about a TV series), concerts ranging from classical to rock, a documentary, and a college-choir holiday performance probably aimed primarily at the school’s alumni (

That’s just one producer/distributor. Others provide marching bands, ballet, church services, sports, political and economic events, children’s shows, instruction, charity events, and even game-playing, some in stereoscopic 3D.

Strangely, even movies can be alternative content. They just have to be tied to specific moments: anniversaries of classics, reminders of what preceded new sequels, and previews.

The key is that, whatever else the alternative content might be, it must be an event. Unfortunately, non-alternative content (better known as regular movies) does not share the event nature. Cinema personnel are, therefore, not accustomed to dealing with such issues as signal reception (at right, brushing snow out of a satellite dish above a cinema in Erie, Pennsylvania) or even noticing when a live event has ended, which is why the mostly white image shown below remains on screen for the last ten minutes of each Metropolitan Opera cinema transmission; it provides exit lighting.

The economics of alternative content have also changed since the 1950s. According to published figures, The Metropolitan Opera: Live in HD has finished as high as ninth in weekend U.S. movie theatrical box office grosses. That can seem spectacular, given that there was a single showing of the opera vs. three days of continuous movie showings. Due to those continuous and ongoing showings (beyond the weekend), however, the movies continue to earn theatrical revenues, whereas the opera (except for an “encore” presentation) doesn’t. An opera that ranked ninth in its live weekend could fall to near 200th in revenue for the year.

On the other hand, alternative content doesn’t necessarily have to make a profit for its producer. If it increases exposure, donations, voter turnout, opera-house attendance, community outreach, etc., it can serve its purpose.

Exhibitors (movie-theaters) do need justification to provide auditoriums, however, which is another reason why alternative content is often priced higher than movies — and scheduled for low-movie-attendance times. An opera that starts at 9 am on the U.S. west coast and lasts for hours — with intermissions — can not only fill an otherwise empty cinema but also provide exceptional business for its concession stand, as the photo above left indicates (a portion of a larger image that appeared in The New York Times on January 1, 2007, shot by J. Emilio Flores in a Burbank, California cinema during the Metropolitan Opera’s The Magic Flute

Of course, as in the 1950s, this is a challenging era for movie exhibitors. With television’s household penetration increasing back then, the movie business turned to stereoscopic 3D and higher-resolution formats. Today, with HD home-theater penetration increasing, the movie business is turning to, well, stereoscopic 3D and higher-resolution (4K) formats. And with sports arenas and arts centers also equipped to show HD images, alternative content can move to alternative venues, like the AT&T Park ball field, shown at right with a live San Francisco Opera feed of Lucia di Lammermoor (

Though this post has covered events in the U.S., alternative content for cinema is a global phenomenon (pre-Avatar, there was even a live 3D opera from France). Here’s a link to The EDCF Guide to ALTERNATIVE CONTENT in Digital Cinema from the European Digital Cinema Forum, published in September 2008 (it’s also popular in Asia, Africa, Australia, and the rest of the Americas):

Don’t like the movie business? Consider the alternatives.

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