The DVD Is Dying. Hollywood's Plan? Do Nothing And Cede Ground To File Sharing
from the there's-no-business-like-no-business dept
David Pogue, NY Times columnist and known copyright infringer, has a new post up over at the Scientific American discussing piracy; more specifically, Hollywood's insistence on driving people to piracy with its lack of digital offerings and a distribution system that depends heavily on artificial limitations.
The first issue plaguing Hollywood's thinking? The DVD is dead and no one in control has realized it. The future lies in streaming movies, not plastic discs. It took the recording industry several years to realize the fact that its customers were not nearly as attached to its physical products as it was. Add to that the fact that many people prize convenience over ownership and it's clear that trying to steer people toward purchasing all of their entertainment isn't the way to go.
Netflix's CEO says, “We expect DVD subscribers to decline steadily every quarter, forever.” The latest laptops don't even come with DVD slots. So where are film enthusiasts suppose to rent their flicks? Online, of course.
Streaming movies offers instant gratification: no waiting, no driving—plus great portability: you can watch on gadgets too small for a DVD drive, like phones, tablets and superthin laptops.
The demand is already there and, as the technology catches up, it will only increase. You can take your music anywhere but most DVDs are still relegated to DVD players. Yes, there are workarounds, but when consumers are looking for the least amount of friction, streaming a movie easily trumps burning off a copy or ripping it to the hard drive. If they can't get the films they want in the format they want, they'll either skip it entirely, find a “competing” provider or look for something else readily available through streaming services.
Streaming services or online rentals, if implemented correctly, would give the motion picture industry some steady, if not increasing income well into the future. But it's completely disinterested in implementing these services in a realistic fashion, instead choosing to double-up on artificial scarcity.
For all of the apparent convenience of renting a movie via the Web, there are a surprising number of drawbacks. For example, when you rent the digital version, you often have only 24 hours to finish watching it, which makes no sense. Do these companies really expect us to rent the same movie again tomorrow night if we can't finish it tonight? In the DVD days, a Blockbuster rental was three days. Why should online rentals be any different?
Yeah. Exactly. Why? Why 24 hours? Netflix, your main competition in this arena, will let you keep the DVD(s) all the way up until they actually shut down the DVD service, only this time for real. As for their streaming “rentals?” Whatever's available stays available for repeated viewings all the way up until it's yanked from the lineup, usually by one of you (points accusingly at the Motion Picture Industry).
Speaking of holes in the lineup, when are you (again with the pointing) going to stop doing this sort of thing?
[P]erhaps most important, there's the availability problem. New movies aren't available online until months after they are finished in the theaters, thanks to the “windowing” system—a long-established obligation that makes each movie available, say, first to hotels, then to pay-per-view systems, then to HBO and, only after that, to you for online rental.
Worse, some movies never become available. Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, A Beautiful Mind, Bridget Jones's Diary, Saving Private Ryan, Meet the Fockers, and so on, are not available to rent from the major online distributors.
How's that “plan” working out for you, Hollywood? Keeping those pirates at bay with your sometime/later/still later/possibly never windowing? To be honest, I don't think you really care. Once all the distribution lines have been wrung dry of any cash, it's time to retire back to the boardroom and blame filesharing for any numbers that seem slightly weak. Blame them if you must, but who's screwing who at this point?
Of the 10 most pirated movies of 2011, guess how many of them are available to rent online, as I write this in midsummer 2012? Zero. That's right: Hollywood is actually encouraging the very practice they claim to be fighting (with new laws, for example).
Look, I don't want to tell you how to do your jobs, but sweet something of somewhere, someone needs to be offering a little guidance. You don't offer rentals of movies people actually want. You do offer rentals of movies that everyone's sick of after their multiple appearances in various windows. Other movies you just flat out don't offer at all. And yet, it's piracy that's keeping you from “breaking even.” I would assume someone has put a bit a thought into this self-inflicted predicament. Pogue finds something akin to an explanation browsing around Disney's website:
“Unfortunately, it is not possible to release or have all our titles in the market at once.” Oh, okay. So they're not available because they're not available.
“Not possible” being PR code for “not until we're absolutely forced to, but we will fight this every step of the way.” But why all the fighting? It didn't work for the recording industry. It won't work for the movie industry. The television industry seems to have weathered the disruption slightly better, but still expends a lot of effort locking up currently running shows and shutting down live streams that would actually GAIN them additional viewers to sell to advertisers.
Pogue has appended a list entitled “5 Ways Hollywood Can Stop Digging Its Own Grave” to his post and they're all common sense (at least to the “layperson”). The largest Hollywood-wielded shovel should have disappeared long ago: the release window. Related: “When it's buyable, it should be rentable.”
This is the way things work these days and it's not just something that went into effect over the last 72 hours. If pirates have your stuff several months before you're planning on releasing it to paying customers, how many paying customers do you expect to have left once you deign them worthy of throwing money at your product?
Final word from Pogue:
Listen up, Hollywood: Nobody ever went out of business offering a good product for sale at a reasonable price with an eye toward pleasing the customer. You should try it some time.