Tuesday night, the Home Theater Forum hosted their annual live chat with Warners Home Video representatives, giving fans a chance to ask anything related to upcoming Warners video releases. I only happened to stumble upon this announcement last night after the chat was already underway, but since my interests lie with some of WB's animation releases (Looney Tunes Golden Collections), I decided to attend the last hour and a half. I accessed the chat through a web page but the technology underneath it was an IRC channel and it really brought me back to the days before Instant Messaging hit the big time on the internet. Before Instant Messaging, there was....IRC.

The way the online chat with Warners worked was interesting: There was a moderator (Ron Epstein) and he had absolute control over the IRC channel. He managed the chat by organizing it into "rounds". At the start of each round he (or co-moderator, Parker Clack) would open up access to the channel to everyone. At this point, anyone who wanted to ask a question would type "YO" into the channel. The moderator would then close access to the channel after about 10 seconds and take the first seven YO's that he saw (from his side, which due to network latency could be different from what I see on the web page). Then, he would inform that person they were up, open channel access exclusively for them and they could ask their question. Users type "END" to signify they are done and the moderator would seal up the channel again and let Warners Home Video respond to the question. There were slightly incorrect rules posted at the beginning of the chat, so it took me a couple rounds of questions to really figure out how everything worked.

Unfortunately, Warners stated early on that there was no one from the Animation department available for the chat, so that was the biggest disappointment. They fluffed off most of the animation questions. One question went something like: "Do you have any plans for Animaniacs, Tiny Toons, Pinky & The Brain ..." and the question continue on for about 10 more titles. This is considered cheating since you're only supposed to ask one question, so I can't fully fault Warners their outrageously curt answer: "Yes". I'm surprised the moderator didn't insist that Warners give a little more detail. While it was a little funny (since technically it did answer the question of "do you have plans?"), it must have been incredibly frustrating for the person asking the question. Kind of like using up your one wish from the genie in the lamp on something stupid...

I also didn't appreciate the periodic shilling of upcoming DVD releases that Warners spewed into the channel occasionally (essentially advertisements) which were totally unrelated to any question being asked, but it was still pretty cool to be in a live chat and get a slim chance to ask a question directly to a big company like WB. Niche fans love this kind of thing, even if all the studio throws at us are the tiniest of bones...

Ironically I got my "YO" in on the last possible round and was the very last person to ask a question in the chat. I'll be forever immortalized when the chat transcript is published by digitalbits.com (here's the 2003 transcript), unless they don't use names in the transcript.

Despite no one from Animation being available in the chat, I did learn a couple things from asking my question:

  • Looney Tunes Golden Collections will likely be released at the current rate of one a year due to the meticulous technical nature of restoring the cartoons (my suspicious nature aso says that the marketing department likes it this way for pacing). This is disappointing to a collector, to say the least.
  • Warners is "working hard to resolve the POPEYE situation". Unfortunately the rights to the Popeye character versus the rights to the Fleischer Popeye cartoons are still being disputed. More details can be read here. Unfortunately "working hard" is hardly a description of when we can expect any progress...
  • IRC is still very cool and in many ways far superior to instant messaging (witness the moderator mechanism above).

One funny incident occured when a new round had started, all the YO's had been submitted and then the moderator opened up channel access for "Matt" and told him to ask his question. Suddenly we got a string of:

Matt: YO
Matt: YO
Matt: YO
Matt: YO

Obviously Matt forgot to turn off his IRC bot/script. This went on for a few pages of YOs with the moderator saying "Matt, ask your question" until finally the moderator kicked Matt and banned any user that matched the login from his ISP.

This goes to show that IRC is still less secure and a little more seedy than Instant Messaging in general. Since IRC is very open and nonproprietary, it is a "breeding ground" for unsavory types trying to propagate worms/viruses. But if you stay in your own channels and don't accept downloads from anybody and don't try to script anything you should be ok. Anyway, if you're brave and interested in checking it out, go download a good IRC client. It's been awhile since I used mIRC, but I always enjoyed trading sound bytes with Rob. It becomes an integral part of online conversation when you can actually hear Homer say "doh!" or Ace Ventura say "Aaaaalrighty then!" - but maybe it needs to be experienced to be missed.

§74 · March 30, 2005 · Entertainment, Technology · · [Print]

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