UStream have issued an apology and explanation, which pretty much confirms what happened with the Hugos webcast. You can read it here. My thanks to the people who pointed me to it.
The facts of the matter are pretty much as most people had anticipated. The Hugo Ceremony was pulled by automatic software that the UStream staff on duty that night could do little about. That software is now under review. I suspect that it is so trigger happy at the moment because of the Olympics. Usain Bolt gets the job done in under 10 seconds, and that’s shorter than most movie clips anyone is likely to show. Highlights of other sporting events also come in very short, and people do try to make money off showing them. It is good to have this issue raised, because a lot of people are liable to fall foul of it in future. The solution for Worldcon, however, is different.
UStream points out that Chicon could have signed up for a professional account that would have been a) ad free and b) pre-approved so immune from the software bots. That’s certainly something that San Antonio should consider. However, there is a snag. The sign-up details for the professional account are here. As you will see, the cheapest option available costs $99/month. Worldcon does precisely two webcasts per year: the nominee announcement and the award ceremony. So that’s a total cost of $594 per webcast. It is better than setting up your own webcasting service, but it is not cheap.
Of course it could be sponsored. You would think that a few hundred dollars a year would be easier to get than a few thousand. Also it may be that UStream will negotiate and allow us to pay only for the two months that we need. I note that CoverItLive did that for Kevin. Our web hosts, Laughing Squid, have also been very understanding of the intermittent nature of our traffic. I shall leave Kevin and the newly appointed chair of the Hugo Award Marketing Committee, Dave McCarty, to sort it out.
In the meantime, do keep yelling. I don’t like the idea of the Internet being run by software bots any more than anyone else. At least not until those bots are as smart and benevolent as Culture Minds. However, you should also never forget the cardinal rule of social networks: If you are not paying for the product, then you are the product, and must expect to be treated as such.
While I’m here, a couple of other points. There will be no Emerald City Best Dressed Award this year. Only the Galactic Suburbia crew bothered to send me a photo, so there’s not really much point in my judging it. I’ll have to wait until the next time I can actually get to a Hugo Ceremony and take the photos myself.
Also, a small complaint. In 2004 when I was at the pre-Hugo party I was impressed to see the toastmaster, Neil Gaiman, going round checking that he knew how to pronounce everyone’s name. I was impressed, and have tried to ensure that happens at any award ceremony I’m involved in. At Chicon both Stan Schmidt and John Scalzi neglected this simple piece of courtesy. Please, Hugo Ceremony Directors, make sure that your presenters are better briefed in future.