Confusion Reigns Supreme with Online Movie and TV Streaming Services. Consumers are the losers.

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Recent shifts in technology due to the Internet have destroyed the profitability of several industries including the newspaper and music businesses. The next business that will be made over by technology is television. The profitability of owning TV networks is being undermined by digital video recorders, internet-enabled on-demand viewing, Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and piracy/theft.  In this post, I’m going to list many if not all of these choices currently available to you and me – and there are WAY TOO MANY. And a lot of amateur content is taking up an increasing portion of a viewers’ time online and on mobile/tablet devices. You Tube has how many new original channels?  I mean unless you’ve got absolutely nothing to do 24hrs a day other than veg in front of a computer and or TV, you can’t ingest even 10% of this content.

Consumption of network and cable content is taking place in ways that allow viewers to circumvent high monthly cable bills, avoid watching commercials, or both. The new Barry Diller backed ‘Aereo’ – https://www.aereo.com/ will indeed disrupt cable and pay-tv as never before. Every single one of these changes represents a move to a revenue model that is less profitable than the one currently enjoyed by the TV networks. It is simply a matter of time before the revenue and profitability of the major networks begins to fall seriously erode.

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Consumers are awash with the plethora choices of streaming movie services, VOD and TV/time shifting programming (between 30 to 40 and counting). There are so many choices that I defy anyone to tell me exactly what they are buying and what each of them offer, specifically how tey are different. Anand Subramanian of startup NimbleTV was even more blunt. “There’s content everywhere. It’s a mess. It’s a total mess for consumers.”

Hollywood-sign-900Hollywood releases maybe 10-12 ‘big’ picture events every year and all of the releases are timed by Holidays (Thanksgiving/Christmas, July 4th, Memorial Day, Halloween, and Labor Day weekends). Independent movies are released around these times and are scattered throughout the year.  Years back when DVD’s were released, those releases in the stores reinforced the theatrical releases with a barrage of marketing. You saw the same big pictures being marketed again in 6-9 months after the theaters. So, when you went to Blockbuster you had a ‘a-ha’ moment. You’d say, oh yeah, I remember that movie, I missed it at the theaters and you would rent it. It was pretty clear what you saw,  what you missed and what you wanted to see again. Then, HBO and Showtime would re-market the same movies in their PAY-TV window approximately 10-12 months after the theaters.  They’d remain there for 24-36 months sometimes even longer.

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When Pay-TV was in its heyday, there was a ‘pay’ content war between HBO and Showtime. Some studios had exclusives with HBO, some with Showtime. To the average consumer, this didn’t mean all too much.  No one wanted to watch a Paramount movie, they wanted to see ‘Fatal Attraction’.  Maybe with the exception of which pay-tv service had Disney movies (if you had kids).  Now, that doesn’t really matter too much as kids watch gobs of shows on basic, Nick Jr., etc.  Over the years, HBO got wise and supplemented its schedule with well produced original programming and still is. Showtime followed with its original programming and both duked it out with Sports, specifically Boxing.

Time shift forward, now it’s a war between Netflix and HBO.

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Its not HBO and Showtime, but Netflix – http://goo.gl/0N2No . And its not only Netflix, it Amazon Prime, Hulu plus, iTunes and a myriad of other streaming offerings.  I’ve compiled a list below. But the bottom line is how does anyone really understand what they are buying? If you subscribe to Netflix, can I see Disney movies? Will I get mega-hit from Universal like Jurassic Park, Les Miserables, and Despicable Me Part 2? Or do I need to subscribe to several streaming services? And, which ones?

And down the road very soon Barry Diller’s back Aereo TV will expand to 22 cities – https://www.aereo.com/. Why is this disruptive if it only offers ABC, CBS and NBC as the primary driver of the service? (more on this later).

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Here is the list ( I hope I’ve got most included). I’ll admit I am confused as everyone else and I’m not going to buy or subscribe to more than one service especially when I don’t even know that if I do, I’ve essentially duplicated the movies and content I’ve subscribed to.

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Hallmark Instant Streaming – coming Spring 2013

Amazon Prime Instant Video – The Prime Instant Video library consists of over 30,000 movies and TV episodes, which can be watched via any device the streaming service is available on, including the Kindle Fire, iOS devices, Roku, Xbox 360, PS3, and the Wii U.

iTunes

Netflix

Redbox Instant (Verizon)

Redbox in Stores – Physical DVD rentals

Roku

Boxee

CinemaNow – Best Buy’s service plus

Hulu +  – Hulu now has more than 430 content partners, offering over 60,000 TV episodes, 2,300 TV series, and 50,000 hours of total video

NimbleTV – Just like Aereo (Barry Diller venture)

Motive TV – Like Nimble and Aereo from the U.K. heading to the US

Aereo – Just like Nimble TV

Ultraviolet – Studio driven answer. Welcome to DRM land.

Bigstar.tv

Crackle – SONY/Columbia Pictures

Vudu

RedBox (physical rental)

Kaleidescape

Sony Pictures Gift Store – more SONY choices

Flixster – Gateway to itunes, amazon and vudu

IndieFlix

Popcornflix

Cable Operators VOD library ( Time-Warner 4,000 movies + Comcast, Cox, etc.)

OnDemand via cable

Microsoft’s X-Box – a Gateway to Netflix + others.

Comcast’s Xfinity – Over 10,000 VOD movies (lots of NBC/Universal content)

Starz Play

Encore Play

MoviePlex Play –  Starz Play currently offers approximately 400 film and TV titles, including 300 movies and 100 episodes of Starz original series. Encore Play offers about 900 monthly selections, while MoviePlex provides access to 200 more movies every month.

AvailTVN_LogoAvail-TVN’s View Now – ViewNow’s library of movie content includes titles from both major and independent studios, which can be delivered in MPEG-2 and MPEG-4, as well as a range of adaptive bitrate (ABR) formats, to traditional set-tops as well as internet-connected devices like PCs, smartphones, and tablets. In addition to multiplatform rights, Avail-TVN says ViewNow includes download rights on a large number of titles.

M-GoM-Go – new app that elegantly streamlines all of your media together in one place including movies, music, TV and more. Formed in 2011, M-GO is a dynamic well-funded startup sprung from the cooperation of Technicolor and DreamWorks Animation. The M-GO app will be available for download for free on all major operating systems. M-GO is preloaded on 2012 Samsung and Vizio Smart TV and Blu-ray players as well as Intel Ultrabooks, totaling up to 30 million installed devices.

Watch ESPN is now available on Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD devices. Free to download via the Amazon Appstore, the TV Everywhere app offers access to live sports and channel programming from ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, and ESPN3, as well as ESPN Goal Line/Buzzer Beater when in season. As is the case with other WatchESPN editions as well as other TV Everywhere services, to access the content the viewer needs to first have ESPN in their TV subscription package. In conjunction with announcing the Kindle Fire app release, ESPN also revealed some end-of-the-year numbers on how WatchESPN is faring in terms of distribution and availability. The sports network says that total downloads for the WatchESPN app, which is now available in the App Store, Google Play, and the Amazon Appstore, more than doubled in 2012. It’s now available in 46 million households nationwide as six of the top 10 cable distributors also provide access to the service.

epix-hd-logo1EPIX plans to launch a streaming app for the PlayStation 3 during the first quarter of 2013, followed by an app for the portable PlayStation Vita console sometime in the spring. The apps will offer more than 3,000 titles, including blockbusters such as The Hunger Games, Thor, and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, as well as EPIX’s lineup of original programming, which features music concert, comedy, and sports events. The apps will be available to PlayStation Network members in the US as a free download. Users will need to authenticate their EPIX TV subscription in order to watch the content.

Now about Aereo.  One of the things we all get cable for whether you realize it or not is to receive the 3 main Broadcast Networks, ABC, CBS and NBC. These are on basic cable in 100% of all cable systems nationwide. And basic cable costs at least $ 50-70 a month and 9 times out of 10 its bundled with pay-TV and a phone land line along with internet access bringing your bill to over $ 100 a month.  And generally, one has a Netflix or Amazon Prime subscription (or another streaming movie service).  There are 2 kinds of camps here or cable subscribers, one with kids and the others without kids. For the people without kids, Aereo + 1 streaming movie service (unless you are a sports nut and MUST have ESPN) would be sufficient. You’d have local broadcast TV and all the movies you could watch/stream. What else do you really need (unless you must watch ‘Honey Boo-Boo’ and then I can’t help you). For the families with kids, this is slightly age dependent. Its hard when you have toddlers NOT to want to get several of Viacom’s Kids channels or Disney’s kids channels (Nick, Nick Jr., Disney Channel, Disney Jr., etc. )  If you have older kids, teens etc. a movie streaming service with Hulu + might suffice.  For those without kids, Aereo + a movie streaming service will drastically cut your bill. Aereo I believe will charge about $ 9.00 a month, no subscription or early termination fee (take that Cox, Comcast, Time-Warner and Fios). Maybe with Amazon Prime or Netflix and your looking at under $ 20.00 a month. Yes, you will need internet access so add another $40-60.00 a month depending on your need for speed. But its definitely less than the typical bundled services. If you don’t think that Aereo has Pay-TV in its crosshairs, you’re crazy. We shall see how this unfolds as it winds its way through the courts. Yes, Aereo is being sued by the broadcasters and others, but it’s also rolling out its service nationwide this spring. I am signing up to see what its like – but it seems like an idea whose time has arrived

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The new ‘kid’ on the block

Where can you download hundreds of new movies without DRM, in the format of your choice, for $2-5.00 a pop? Unbox? iTunes? NBC Direct? Movielink? CinemaNow? Nope. None of the above. Instead, try zml.com. From the same folks who brought us ‘allofmp3.com’ (now defunct) brings us the newest thorn in the side of Hollywood, zml.com (this stands for The Movie Library). Until Hollywood shuts this one down, it is the newest equivalent to what Kazaa or Limewire once was – access to full, brand-new Hollywood hits available for download – except with a download ‘fee’ attached.
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If you want to try this service I’d suggest getting a pre-paid Visa card because who knows what they’d do with your credit card number once grabbed in their database running out out of Russia. My sources tell me the site is up and functioning (I did not try it). From what I’ve read, it takes a little over an hour to download a full length film ( 700 meg Divx file) -this was on a DSL connection (so broadband would be significantly quicker). Formats run from Divx to iPod (mp4), PDA to DVD (vob).

These kinds of illegal movie download sites pop-up from time to time. But it seems when Hollywood legally ‘sanctions’ (officially ‘license’) a bona-fide movie download site, they always seem to shoot themselves in the foot or force the website to remain captive to its licensors (the studios) restrictive, anti-consumer un-user friendly demands which ultimately strangles the web service. Done right (which the illegal sites seem to get right because they DON’T have the studios in their faces) are the ‘key’ elements that go a long way to providing some traction and consumer popularity. These illegal sites all tend to promote 5 essential consumer ‘key’ elements that make them very attractive to use and popular. They are (1) broad choice of current or new movie’s offered + library (2) flexible choice of video formats (3) priced fairly (4) no DRM (5) ease of use

The 1 item that Hollywood can’t seem to get around is DRM. The use of DRM and the reasons why the studios insist on DRM has another solution than the “all or nothing” proposals of the past. This issue CAN be handled differently. Handling this another way would allow consumers to have the same flexibility that an ‘open’ (or non-DRM’ed file) digital file would have – complete interoperability between different kinds of hardware playback devices (DVD players, iPods, computers, etc.) AND still contain the DRM algorithm ‘flavor of the month’ that Hollywood desires. More on this another time soon.