13 Movie Online Services is WAY too many. (PPV Part 2)

Netflix vs. Google TV 2.0 PPV (powered by Honeycomb 3.1) vs. YouTube rentals vs. iTunes vs cable PPV vs VUDU vs. Blockbuster OnDemand vs Facebook OnDemand vs BigStar Movies vs CinemaNow OnDemand vs. Alphaline ( Sears/Roxio) vs. Redbox (due 2011) vs. Flixster via Warner Bros. vs anyone else ?

What happens when the airlines have a fare war? You know, you can fly from NY to L.A. for $xx.xx and then the next thing you know, another airline tops that price by $ 20.00? Or gives you a free bag to carry on board? All of a sudden 5 or more airlines have the same special going on. Who do you fly with? Decisions, decisions… It all begins to seem and look the same to you. You get to the same destination, same approximate times, using the same type of transportation, in the air for just about the same money. Who suffers? Ultimately the carriers do.
Meet the carriers. Not the airlines, but the carriers of movies online. I count thirteen (13) of them – eleven (11) of them are live as we speak. All boasting the same movies for the most part for the same prices. All rentable at the same time for about the same amount of time. And I’m not even counting Redbox as an online rentable service…yet. What’s a consumer to do – who do you choose? And why. Do you ‘subscribe’ to a Netflix monthly or do you pick off a film on a one-off basis from another provider. More importantly, how do all of these guys begin to differentiate themselves from each other? How and where do they market themselves? Netflix is clearly the 900lb gorilla today. I guess iTunes is # 2. But beyond them, I can’t really tell who’s in third place. But more importantly, do I really care? Do I need3 or 5 or 7 similar services? On top of all this, I have Verizon’s FIOS cable service at home with thousands of movies to choose from to watch on any given day/hour.

I have licensed movies before from each of the studios and it was no easy task. Number one, its VERY expensive. Figure an upfront fee to be paid to play, maybe between $500k-$1m. That’s just for starters. Then there are the guarantees against each title licensed. Therefore as a provider of online fare, you’ve got to re-coup that fee with a certain number of minimum rentals or turns of the gate so to speak. With nearly 13 services out there plus cable choices, I’m going to take a guess here a few will not make it. Not only must you guarantee upfront cash, you also must explain how you are going to market the studios films, how you will digitally protect them from piracy ( good luck on that one) and how you will separate yourself from the rest of the online movie ‘noise’. All of this and then compete with the new ‘premium’ $30.00 a pop cable TV onDemand offering ( not that I think that’s going to be too successful – it’s the least of these companies problems).
However, the one issue I have with all these services is this: I am unable to save ANYTHING I purchase or rent for viewing later on a rainy day. If I had a ‘digital’ locker – someplace to hold what I spend my money on to see so I can view it later (more than 24hrs later), that might sway me to use that service ALL THE TIME.

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A Train Wreck Indeed!

How do you f’up the pay-per-view business? You don’t. No need to – it has been one train wreck since 1984. (Full disclosure: In 1984, I started a nationwide satellite delivered ‘A’ title Movie service called’ The People’s Choice’ alongside of Jeff Reiss’s ‘RequestTelevision’ and Scott Kurnit’s ‘Viewers Choice’). When I was in this business, Bill Mechanic (ex-CEO, Chairman of Fox, Disney, green lit ‘Titanic’) and Barry Diller were at Paramount, Jamie Kellner ( Orion Pictures who went on to run ‘The WB Network’), Hal Richardson ( President at Paramount) was at Disney/Dreamworks, Eric Frankel (President for 26yrs) and Stanley Solson along with Eddie Blier were at Warner Bros. ( close to the Steve Ross reign whom I knew well from High School days), Mike Medavoy at Tri-Star, Ned Nalle at Universal and Andy Kaplan at Sony. Most all of these people now still are around and are running their own ship BECAUSE back then, they had a some foresight and moxie. They DID agree to let the PPV at least try and get off the ground by granting PPV rights to a few nascent, early entrants in the business. At that time, there were only a few addressable homes to see the films.

Since the inception of PPV on the cable landscape, its always been a ‘promise’ business at best. Nothing really ever took off or was unbelievably successful (and I am referring to MOVIES, not the WWF, Boxing or the Adult business). Many a business and consulting firm was built around it, hardware made for it, ordering systems invented and manufactured and in the end, most went out of business. Most cable operators didn’t even understand it or what it was suppose to be, what ‘tier’ to put it on and how to promote it. Most felt it would cannibalize their existing cash cow, PAY TV.

It never cannibalized anything because it never got off the ground. No one could agree on a movie PPV ‘window’ (the timing of when a PPV movie should be allowed to be seen and ordered on PPV). Many a conference, discussion group, speech and convention sessions were had – all futile. Nothing was ever decided. The VCR’s were blamed as the culprit, then it was the movie studios, then it was theater owners, then it was Pay TV and the ‘exclusivity’ wars of the 90’s. Then the Internet crept upon us all and that was the new Darth Vadar. You can’t release a film on PPV too early because it could be copied easily and even easier become distributed by means of the internet all over the planet (meaning no more duplicating and bicycling cassettes as if my friends ever did this in mass to begin with). Now, using the Internet, movies would be all over the place, everywhere. Everyone would have a copy. Well? Do we ALL have copies of Avatar? Tootsie? As Good As It Gets? Dirty Harry? A good industry has got to know its limitations! And this one never did!

Now, theater owners are afraid of the 60 day release window. Pahleeese! Just read a few of the articles below.

http://engt.co/lWRaty

http://bit.ly/kXEgRU

http://lat.ms/kiRwwc

Theater owners and the Hollywood creative community are livid about Premium VOD, which they perceive as paving the road to cannibalizing theatrical attendance which would in turn harm a movie’s overall economics, creating a dangerous downward spiral. In addition, there’s concern that if consumers switch to watching movies on the small screen then the creative license implicit in a big screen emphasis will get squeezed. While their concerns MAY be justified, the good news for them is that Premium VOD will be lucky to achieve even minimal success.

Why? The cost is one – $ 30.00 for a poor film or film that has not done well at the theater or is released directly to DVD (or what was once called DVD) is insane. Sorry, justification by babysitter fees and popcorn costs don’t cut it. These are niche films. Avatar and other BIG films will never see this light of day through this window. But ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs ‘ will (and has already, sort of). Example – first film up is Just Go With It” starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston. Ho-hum. Good cast and a flop a the box office for the most part. I’d be pissed if I paid $30.00 for this AND CAN’T EVEN KEEP A COPY IN A DIGITAL LOCKER TO SEE WHEN I WANTED AGAIN? WTF? And frankly that could be one of the keys to making this viable. Give me the ability to KEEP it as if I bought the DVD ( keep it in a ‘cloud’ locker) and I’d might buy a few films – that would help at least justify the cost.

And, as Will Richmond from VideoNuze so aptly points out, “Studios seem to believe that making movies available sooner in the home will attract demand. But the problem is that there are already so many choices for watching movies in the home – pay-TV, Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, etc. etc., that it will be very hard to break through the noise, solely with a “sooner” positioning, which is more than offset by a ridiculously high price point. Consumers are savvier than ever; they’ll quickly realize that they can get the same movie for $4-5, a sixth to a seventh the price of Premium VOD, just by waiting a couple more months for it to appear on pay-TV or online VOD.”

So, theater owners who vow to ‘go to war’ are wasting their time and efforts. I guarantee them that the Movie studios and cable operators and satellite delivery services will win the war for them. Somehow, these guys think that consumers are not too smart. When are they going to wake up and smell the coffee? When are they going to realize that all of us don’t rush to ‘steal’ digital copies of films for any number of reasons (i.e., they are 700megs of data AT LEAST, cumbersome to store, less than perfect copies that lack subtitles at times and extra’s.) They are not MP3’s! Music and movies may both have a digital base as a common denominator but ultimately I’ll listen to Hotel California many more times than I can watch Avatar in my lifetime. And the pirates don’t make a bit of difference except barely on the streets of lower Manhattan or Tokyo where poorly made copies sell for $5.00 until those vendors get caught that day. And they on sell about 30 movies at that point – no MASS market like that that would ruin a $250m box office in the theaters or in any ancillary market I know of.

Theater owners should rejoice that soon this whole business will be in Netflix’s (or some other digital distributors) capable hands and not the studios. (Apologies to those friends of mine at the studios now – its not your fault, it’s just the ‘economics’ to blame and perhaps a few at the top thinking we are still in the DVD/VCR age). Make the business consumer friendly – give us a copy of what we buy and allow us to watch it whenever we want for our money that we spent. After all, I can do this with new music released, why not new movies released?

It’s the pirates who are on the right side of history.

In Praise of Piracy – a well written article and one you might want to read, by Jon Evans.

http://techcrunch.com/2011/02/05/in-praise-of-piracy/

then visit this site:   http://www.dontmakemesteal.com/   –  a Digital Media Consumption Manifesto

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The Dirty Little Secret Hollywood Does NOT Want You to Figure Out…until we are all metered to death.

So you think piracy is primarily taking place on BitTorrent, eMule and Gnutella? Think again. There is a whole parallel universe out there with people trading huge amounts of DVDs, TV shows, warez and porn. Five terabytes of new content every single day, to be precise. Welcome to Usenet, the original piracy hotbed. And especially this time of year with the Hollywood screeners out for the Academy members, its especially busy (True Grit showed up just yesterday).

 

 

 

Usenet is a little bit like P2P’s estranged uncle. People started trading files over newsgroups around the time when Napster founder Shawn Fanning attended kindergarden. The face of Usenet has changed dramatically in recent years, though. It has become big business for some. It has been under legal scrutiny, but escaped major lawsuits. Will the next step be Hollywood-friendly commercialization?

 

Usenet has been around since the early eighties as a kind of decentralized publishing and discussion platform. It consists of thousands of newsgroups, most of which are somewhat of a mix between a mailing list and a public bulletin board. Newsgroups can be accessed with specialized newsreader applications or though web gateways. Then simply find a divx newsgroup among the 63,000 or so groups and you are off to the races.

The technical infrastructure of Usenet is a loose worldwide network of servers that exchange messages on a regular basis.  Its not too much different than a public library. In fact, it IS the internets public library.  Users can subscribe to one of these groups and automatically download new messages. Sounds familiar? Exactly: Newsgroups are in many ways similar to RSS feeds. And newsgroups, just like feeds, can be used for much more than just distributing text.

People started to trade dirty pictures over Usenet early on (BBS). Warez has also always been a part of the medium, and some of the first MP3s actually found their way online in newsgroups. Nowadays video makes up for most of Usenet’s traffic. Some news servers clock up to three terabytes of traffic per day.

Usenet provider Giganews.com announced it offers access to nearly three billion messages. The most popular content is still porn, but mainstream entertainment is catching up quickly: Groups like alt.binaries.movies.divx cause up to 15 percent of all non-text Usenet data.

Many universities have simply stopped carrying these binary newsgroups to reduce their traffic bill. Some ISPs have instead opted to meter Usenet-related bandwidth, restricting access to one or two gigabytes per month — not enough for hardcore users. Third-party Usenet providers fill the gap with more generous plans that cost between 10 and 25 dollars per month.  This is one of the reasons why all of us will eventually get ‘metered’ by our ISP (Comcast and some Time-Warner systems are testing the waters with this now).

The Usenet industry has boomed since entertainment companies started to go after file sharers. From 2002 through 2003, a number of BitTorrent services were established, including Suprnova.org, isoHunt, TorrentSpy, and The Pirate Bay. In 2002, the RIAA was filing lawsuits against Kazaa users. As a result of such lawsuits, many universities added file sharing regulations in their school administrative codes (though some students managed to circumvent them during after school hours). With the shut down of eDonkey in 2005, eMule became the dominant client of the eDonkey network. In 2006, police raids took down the Razorback2 eDonkey server and temporarily took down The Pirate Bay. Pro-piracy demonstrations took place in Sweden in response to the Pirate Bay raid. In 2009, the Pirate Bay trial ended in a guilty verdict for the primary founders of the tracker. The decision was appealed, leading to a second guilty verdict in November 2010.  Usenet providers tend to keep no logs about downloaders, and you only need one uploader to facilitate tens of thousands of downloads. Some Usenet providers have been targeting file sharing users with aggressive advertising campaigns on torrent websites and P2P forums that promise encryption and anonymity. The dirty little secret of the industry is that some of these self-proclaimed bad-boys also power the Usenet services of major ISPs.

 

Entertainment companies have been somewhat helpless in their reactions to the Usenet surge. The MPAA has previously sued websites that indexed movies in newsgroups, but has stayed shy of going after Usenet server operators themselves. The reason for this is that most Usenet companies are protected by the safe harbor provisions of the DMCA, and any legal precedence could endanger other piracy cases. Rights holders in other countries have been more aggressive, but haven’t been able to put a dent into Usenet usage either.

Former Usenet provider GUBA has tried to go a different route, revamping its platform to offer paid movie downloads next to user-generated content and a small section of filtered Usenet content.  There also was a large Japanese and Korean audience on Guba — something that doesn’t really translate too well to US-only movie sales.

An argument MIGHT be able to be made for some of the independent titles that never ever see the light of day as to use usenet as a way to get word-of-mouth, but for the most part it never works. Usenet is primarily used by those who know how to use it as a tool to grab software and TV episodes and movies for free. Of course it does come with some dangers. A lot of software uploaded by some people contain malicious viruses and .exe’s. You need to have a well protected PC and a lot of experience with how to look out for these traps. However, one day, this will come to an end once the Comcasts of the world ‘meter’ us all. Its one thing to buy a $10.00 a month account to giganews, quite another to pay $25.00 a month for 5 gigs of downloadable content – especially when the movies are now being uploaded in High Def. One regular movie download now is 700 megs, the High-Def one is more like 3 gigs. This will push more users of this kind of service to the Netflix of the world to ‘stream’ the content for a fee far less than buying 25 gigs from Comcast or another ISP.

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The Day the Studios and Theaters Stood Still

Sometime in the near future there will be an explosion heard only in the entertainment trades and whispered and talked about between studios, marketing executives,  theater owners and DVD retailers. The FCC gave everyone permission to enter this pissing match and what a pissing match it will be.

If you ever go to the movies (and many of us do) with more than 1 person – so two people attend a film and you have a child where you needed to hire a sitter, you might not be going to the theater so quickly anymore. Well, maybe you still will. Time will tell this one. Soon, a mere 6 weeks AFTER any movie starts playing in a theater, you will be able to watch it at home in the comfort of your ‘Aunt Fay’s couch’ (nod to Steely Dan) on your nice large LCD flat panel TV.  To help you To help you visualize what this means in numbers, there are about 115 million television households in the US. Approximately 100 million of them are currently cable, satellite or IPTV subscribers. Through these cable boxes (although not every one of them, only the ‘digital’ households that have a set-top box) you will be able to purchase the very same film that was JUST in the theaters 6 weeks ago on cable for $24.99 – called premium V.O.D. – video-on-demand.  BUT, the movie studios will be able to activate a technology to prevent films sold through video-on-demand cable systems from being copied.  This is the ruling that the FCC just allowed in May 2010 after a two year battle with the studios.

Right now, theaters get an exclusive period — 120 days (4 months vs. 6 weeks), on average — to serve up new movies. Then the releases appear on television video-on-demand services at a price of about $4.99. Now the studios want to offer us new movies on video-on-demand services about 45 days after they arrive in theaters.  But, you can’t keep a copy or make a copy (your DVR, VHS or whatever won’t work). Just like a theater, once its over, its over.

So, if you are more than 2 people (+ a baby sitter), and unless you are dying to see the film on a BIG screen, I guess you might wait a few weeks.

So, what’s the big deal? For starters, the theater owners, have made it clear that releasing a movie early on video-on-demand services — thus cutting into their window — would be the equivalent of declaring war. They feel people will be more reluctant to buy movie tickets, at an average cost of almost $8, if they know they can catch the same film just a few weeks later in their living rooms, and for less money than it costs to haul the whole family to the theater. The average moviegoer spends more than $3 on popcorn and soda and the like, the cost of Friday night at the movies for a family of four can easily reach $45 – $60 — or much more in cities like New York and California.   And theater owners say this doesn’t take into account second-run and discount theaters, and that there are big exceptions: “Inception,” for instance, was still raking in millions in theaters 10 weeks after its release.

Next up, DVD retailers are fuming – Best Buy and Wal-Mart have told the studios they will retaliate against anyone who tries early-release V.O.D. because of the threat it poses to DVD sales. Huh, what DVD sales? The DVD is going the way of the CD in case anyone hasn’t noticed. Blockbuster just filed for bankruptcy. DVD sales for the year are expected to total about $9.9 billion, down 30 percent from their peak in 2004  (about $13 billion), according to Adams Media Research.

Who is the big winner here? The Studios (or so they think) because as much as 80 percent of that early V.O.D. revenue goes to them, therefore movie executives see a new way to compensate for their dwindling DVD business. And the studios are aware that consumers are growing impatient about being unable to access all movies whenever and wherever they want. An early video-on-demand option might prevent some of those frustrated customers from turning to pirated copies.

So where’s the flaw in this plan? I have a couple of thoughts. First of all, the pay-per-view business has been an anemic business since its inception on cable in 1984 when Request TV, Viewers Choice and The People’s Choice (yes, this was my company back then). Part of the problems was with the windows given to PPV movies, part was the terrible job the cable operators did to market these films to us, part was the billing mechanism (it was archaic) and part was the fact that the VHS back then and soon the DVD was simply an easier option. Not to mention you could rent the same film on VHS/DVD so much earlier than on PPV and then buy a copy to own, to watch again and again.  Second problem is that you can’t keep a copy of what you fork out $24.99 for. This just begs for pirates to hack the system (and it will happen and supposedly already has). So forget the studios argument that an early video-on-demand option might prevent some of those frustrated customers from turning to pirated copies.  Maybe at first, but I have no doubt pirated copies will turn up on the streets all the same – now just earlier and better quality DVD copies.

The fact you can’t keep a copy is just self-defeating. Instead, what the studios SHOULD be doing is giving everyone a ‘cloud’ storage locker for say, $ 10.00-20.00 a year. Once you pay $24.99, the film goes straight to your locker. Then, its kept there to be watched as many times as you want for as long as you keep the locker subscription current each year. Sure, pirated copies will still happen but there is a much better chance that people will be more willing to pay the $24.99 IF they can watch it over again, anytime, and on any ‘authorized’ device you own (i.e. mobile phone, Galaxy ‘Tab’, iPad, etc).  Apple does great job with ‘authorized’ devices and computers.

I’m sure a studio would say ‘well, then your friends can come over and see the same film without paying for it because its in your locker’. Well, its in YOUR locker, not theirs and they can come over anyway under the present scenario. And this is the same ridiculous argument studio exec’s made in the early years of the PPV business.  It didn’t stop anyone back then and only help stifle the PPV business – a misjudgment they appear are doomed to repeat once again.  Will they ever learn from past mistakes?

So, will you pay $24.99 to watch a film at home you can only see one time?  You might if it’s a title you don’t really care to much to see in the theaters. Would you have seen Avatar that way?  NOT ME!

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What Content Can NOT be Pirated, Is still 100% Free and Millions of People See DAILY?

It’s not the movies. They are all over everywhere. It’s not music. It’s not photo’s or documents. C’mon…Its TELEVISION! What I mean is this: TV isn’t pirated out of the box because the episodes of LOST or V or the last NY Giant football game (sorry, I’m a fan) debut on TV. I can’t find the upcoming episode of V which is on ABC tommorrow -10/10/09 – on any torrent or newsgroup. It may show up AFTER its debut on TV, but never before. There are no ‘screener’s’ floating around the newsgroups. This being said, the content on these networks becomes all that much more important. And, I believe because its so accessable, that’s one of the reasons its NOT on the newsgroups or torrents as much as the movies and music are.

-Coming up:

Wal-Mart and Target – The last DVD standing

 

Academy Award screeners 2009 online tally

This says it all.

Yesterday saw the announcement of the 2009 Oscar nominees. This year there were 26 movies put forward, and by nomination day, 23 of them were already being shared online in DVD quality, many of them copies of voter’s DVD Screeners.

oscar torrentLast year we took a look at the excellent research carried out by Waxy’s Andy Baio, as he provided detailed piracy stats for every Oscar-nominated movie since 2003. Andy contacted us to announce that he’s been working hard again in 2009 – we take a look at his findings.

For the 2009 Oscars, 26 movies were nominated. In alphabetical order they are: Australia, Bolt, Changeling, Defiance, Doubt, Frost/Nixon, Frozen River, Happy-Go-Lucky, In Bruges, Hellboy II, Iron Man, Kung Fu Panda, Milk, Rachel Getting Married, Revolutionary Road, Slumdog Millionaire, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, The Duchess, The Reader, The Visitor, The Wrestler, Tropic Thunder, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Wall-E and Wanted.

Of these 26 movies, 25 were available online by yesterday’s nomination day – only Rachel Getting Married made the date piracy-free. An MPAA-worrying 23 of these were downloadable in either DVD Screener or Retail DVD format (Region 5 included). In the past months many of the nominees appeared in our weekly download charts, with The Dark Knight as the absolute winner topping 7 million downloads in 2008.

Of course, the MPAA is always keen to point to the ‘evils’ of camcorder piracy and has clamped down heavily on this in recent years. However, it doesn’t seem able to deal effectively with its own internal issues. Of the 26 nominated films, 20 were distributed to Oscar voters in DVD Screener format. Many of them leaked onto the web, with the exceptions countable on one hand.

In 2003 the MPAA temporarily banned Oscar screeners to prevent them from leaking, but this decision was eventually reversed. Since then, the industry has touted technical solutions such as Cinea to protect their content, but for various reasons it hasn’t stopped the leaks. This year the average time from DVD Screeners being delivered to voters and subsequently leaking out to the web, was just 6 days.

Written by enigmax on January 23, 2009

The video industry may be encouraging the very behavior they seek to stop.

A very good article from Rob Griffiths at Macworld. Its worth reading because he’s on the money here. Furthermore, what he does not mention is that a lot of the piracy actually stems from the employees at the studios themselves releasing DVD screeners out onto the web.

As a consumer of audio and video in many forms—CDs, DVDs, and online purchases—I find it interesting to watch as the various media businesses adjust to life in a digital world. On the music side of the world, it seems that (slowly but surely) they’re starting to “get it.” Consumers don’t like to be hassled by digital rights management (DRM), they want to pay a fair price, and they want to use their music on devices they own without worrying about format, rights, or permissions issues.

For the longest time, the music industry insisted on copy protection for online music sales, even though (higher quality) CD versions of that same music were (generally) shipped without any form of copy protection.

So at first, everything you bought from the (then) iTunes Music Store was protected by FairPlay, Apple’s generous (but still restrictive) DRM solution.

In June of 2007, though, the first chinks in the DRM armor appeared, with Apple and EMI announcing iTunes Plus, DRM-free music at higher bit rates for $1.29 per song, versus the 99 cents per song for the FairPlay-protected versions.

Then, in September 2007, Amazon launched its own MP3 download service. Unlike the iTunes Store at the time, music in the Amazon MP3 store was (and remains) completely free of DRM. As a consumer, I was intrigued, and tried it out. While the Amazon MP3 store can’t rival the rich experience you get in the iTunes Store, it’s not a bad solution, and its download tool automatically adds my purchases to iTunes.

Finally, to put the proverbial nail in the DRM coffin, Phil Schiller announced at this year’s Macworld Expo that the iTunes Store was going DRM free—at the expense of Apple’s one-price-fits-all strategy. Over the next few months, the entire 10-million-strong iTunes Store music catalog will migrate to DRM-free versions (at higher bit rates)—Apple claims that more than 80 percent of iTunes music is available now in iTunes Plus format.

image

As a music consumer, I’m thrilled with this—no more do I need to carefully manage my authorizations for music playback amongst the various machines I use. I can burn anything I want, back up my songs without having to re-rip them, and generally not think about what happens to my music if the iTunes Store ever vanishes. With one click of a button, I can upgrade my entire library and be done with DRM…in theory, at least. (Of course, there are some issues with the upgrade plan, but it’s still better than DRM-encoded music.)

So it seems, finally, the music industry gets it. Given the chance, consumers will pay a reasonable price for unprotected, high quality music that they can use as they wish. Unfortunately, the video industry hasn’t yet apparently seen even a flicker of such enlightenment in the distance. You can see evidence of their confusion all over the iTunes Store, starting with iTunes Plus.

What about video?

iTunes Plus applies only to music in the iTunes Store, not to video (or audiobooks, for that matter). So while my music will be “free,” I’ll still be messing with authorizations for the video content I purchase from the iTunes Store. That’s unfortunate, and strange, given that the large size of movie files means they’re typically harder for consumers to distribute than relatively small music files.

imageWhy is an HD movie different than an HD TV show?

Beyond iTunes Plus, you can see more confusion in the handling of high definition (HD) content on the iTunes Store.

You can, for instance, purchase a TV series in HD and watch it on your Mac or Apple TV…but you can’t purchase an HD movie at all, and you can only rent them on an Apple TV, not a Mac. Why? What’s different about an HD TV series and an HD movie?

From my chair at least, nothing. I know, behind the scenes, they’re controlled by two very different entities, but as a consumer, such things shouldn’t matter. When I want to purchase HD content, I want to be able to use it on whatever device I wish, and transfer it easily between all such devices I own. The current model is just completely confusing, and makes no sense.

Of video and piracy

It really makes no sense when you consider that the video industry is taking these protective steps against those who are probably least likely to steal their content—consumers who have decided to purchase through the iTunes Store. We’ve made a conscious decision to buy our audio and video through the iTunes Store, and yet the video industry treats us as though we’re all pirates foaming at the mouth, ready to upload our freshly-purchased content to every pirate server in the known universe.

image

One way to really alienate your customers is to treat them all like thieves and criminals. (I’m not sure the music industry has fully learned this lesson either, given some of the RIAA’s tactics…but at least record companies are making strides on DRM.)

If I want to steal a movie, there are many ways to do so quickly and easily, as seen in the image at right. Using Tropic Thunder, the movie in my sample image above, it took all of one Google search to find literally dozens of different versions of the film, with varying levels of quality and features.

Quite ironically, a stolen movie is actually easier for the consumer to use than a legitimately-purchased copy of the same movie. A stolen movie won’t be DRM-protected, may be encoded at a higher bit rate (better quality) than a purchased version, and can be easily played on any device capable of playing back video. Why is it that pirates are rewarded for their actions, while legitimate consumers are punished and treated as if they are pirates? By making it difficult for honest consumers to purchase and use their products, the video industry may be encouraging the very behavior they seek to stop.

The pricing issue

My final annoyance with the video industry and the iTunes Store has to do with the pricing of TV series—another behavior that may drive otherwise honest consumers to take dishonest actions. The new season of 24 started recently, and for better or worse, it’s a series I enjoy watching. Given how much time I spend in front of the machine, however, I thought that maybe I’d purchase the 24 Season 7 HD season pass from the iTunes Store.

Then I saw the cost, a whopping $68, and changed my plans. Nearly $70 for something that has no physical media, would be very difficult to resell (is it even possible?), and is encumbered by DRM! You can’t even burn it to a DVD for use away from a computer or Apple TV (even the non-HD version is expensive, at $45, and non-burnable, like all iTunes Store videos). So I’d be paying $70 for basically nothing more than the right to watch the video on my Mac, iPhone (non-HD, of course), or Apple TV. (Even old versions of TV series are outrageously priced—the seven-year-old 24 Season 1 (non-HD) is still $40!)

As it turns out, I can actually watch 24 for free (and legally) on Fox’s Web site—and in full-screen mode, the video looks quite nice even on my 23-inch LCD. Sure, it’s not available on all my devices, but if what I really want to do is watch something on my Mac, free sure beats $70.

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If I really want 24 on all my devices, and I find the $70 to be a huge burden, another quick trip to Google finds that all four episodes of the new 24 season are readily available online. Legal? Not even close. A tempting alternative for those who aren’t able to afford $70, or perhaps live outside the geographically-restricted area where they could buy 24 even if they wanted to? You bet.

So by pricing the season at a somewhat ridiculous price point, Fox has not only lost a sale, but has probably encouraged people who would otherwise give it money to go find alternative solutions. For me, I would’ve gladly paid about $30 to $35 for the season pass—the ability to watch on any device would be nice, and I’d love to feel like I’m supporting the series.

Instead, I’ve chosen to do what I’ve done the prior years—record 24 on my Tivo, and then watch it (skipping commercials) on the big screen. Not as convenient as having it available everywhere, but $70 is simply well past my cutoff point for a convenience cost.

Some shows get it, it seems. You can buy 16 30-minute episodes of The Daily Show for $10, or about $1.78 per hour of entertainment. Contrast that with 24, which will cost you $3.80 per hour (I’m using the actual show lengths here, i.e. 21 minutes or so for The Daily Show and 44 minutes for 24). But The Daily Show is an exception; current seasons of most TV series seem priced to dissuade purchase, rather than to encourage purchase.

I firmly believe that if the prices were to be halved, volume would increase dramatically—and it’s not like there’s much direct cost in producing the downloadable version of an already-filmed TV show, so almost all the money the studios would earn through increased volume would be profit (less what they must pay out in commissions, of course). So why are they asking such outrageous sums for current (and non-current) TV series?

Hopefully the video industry will see what the music industry has done and take steps to adjust its rules on HD content, its stance on DRM, and its pricing policies. As things stand now, however, video producers are treating their customers like thieves, and encouraging them to find alternative solutions that are less costly, unencumbered by DRM, and more agreeably priced. Some alternatives are legal, others are not…but no amount of protection on iTunes Store videos is going to change that fact. Pirates will pirate, and the current iTunes Store video rules hurt only those who seek to legitimately purchase their content.

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Can you stop piracy? No. But you can slow it down BIG time.

Piracy has been a pain for many and a convenience for some. If you know how to grab full length features from the web whether its from a torrent or newsgroups and that’s the only thing that you do (not UPLOADing  movies), then you’re probably safe. In fact, you’re a great ‘watercooler’ marketer for new movies in the theaters or just released on DVD. Now, it seems that Comcast will be monitoring bandwidth hogs, and  slowing down those connections that real hogs….translation: anyone downloading movies and music. So, what’s the worst thing you can do to a person that downloads a screener of gran-torino1 ‘Gran Torino’ or marley-and-me‘Marley and Me’ today ? (Because they ARE up on the newsgroups thanks to the studios themselves – my next post, btw).  SLOW his connection speed to a crawl. Simple. No technical anything needed.  It will make getting these films to your home an incredibly frustrating experience.  And, this will happen, eventually…. read this. (Thanks Om!)

Pirated Screeners…your ‘Christmas’ update. Brought to you by…. The Studios!

warner.jpguniversal.jpgparamount.jpgcolumbiatristar.jpgdisney1.jpgmgm.jpg It’s Christmas time and more and more of those ever ‘elusive’ screeners are appearing now online each day (and other films too, not just screeners) . Just showing up last night and ALL in DVD Screener quality; I am Legend , Gone Baby Gone, Zodiac, Resident Evil Extinction, Stardust, The Simpsons Movie, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, Eastern Promises, Underdog (what a waste of digital storage space), Once, The Kite Runner, 3:10 to Yuma, Atonement, The Bee Movie,  No Country for Old Men,  Alvin and The Chipmunks, August Rush, and The Perfect Holiday. Still MIA are (but I expect will rear their heads in a few days); Fred Claus, Enchanted,  Michael Clayton,  The Golden Compass, Sweeney Todd, Charlie Wilson’s War, Beowolf, P.S. I Love You and National Treasure: Book of Secrets.

The DVD screeners are nearly all ‘poached’ from someone in each studio. The screener ‘log’ number (embedded in the digital copy near the bottom of the screen) has been digitally removed so it can’t be identified as to whose screener copy it actually was.

It appears that the crop of pictures are as robust as last years and that despite numerous anti-theft measures by each studio, films STILL make it out the door. Some are Region 5 copies, most are dvd screeners, internal to each studio. However, with the demise of Kazaa and Limewire in the past year and half, the distribution of these ‘pirated’ copies has diminished. The reason being that Kazaa and Limewire enabled the non-technical consumers to be able to download a copy of anything with only 1 click. Getting films such as the ones I’ve mentioned above now from newsgroups requires a pretty sophisticated and long process and some technical understanding and expertise. Most of this is well beyond the masses online. That’s the good news. But in truth, these ‘advance’ screeners end up being discussed and chatted about online much like topics you might discuss around the proverbial ‘water cooler’ at your office. These discussions (positive or negative) filter down into people’s blogs, messageboards, IM chats and eventually get swept up onto Google somewhere giving that film some additional exposure it never would of had through traditional channels. After all, isn’t that what each studio tries to do with all of their content when its released, ultimately promote it? Wouldn’t it be cool one day if someone at a studio realized all of this and made a film with 2 different endings (or additional scenes) to try and take advantage of this unregulated distribution ‘channel’. Purposely release the DVD screener of 1 version (ending) and then the other (the theatrical version) through normal channels. Think of the buzz and consumer demand (especially if the film was popular) to now find that other version and see the alternate ending. Of course, then they could release THAT version through traditional channels giving the studio’s perhaps a larger slice of DVD sales at retail.

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