Last week, Jim wrote a concise analysis of “why people download shared music”. I’m going to continue that theme — possibly ranting a bit more than Jim. Today’s hot news is that the studios are (gasp! sigh! swoon!) going to allow consumers* to download movies on the same day the DVD is released.
Needless to say, this isn’t the giant step forward for mankind that you’d imagine. And not just because “same day” can mean “same day” or within 45 days. Your choice. As the Los Angeles Times notes:
But movie fans will pay for the convenience: Downloadable flicks such as “Brokeback Mountain,” “King Kong” and “Pride and Prejudice” may cost as much as twice what the DVD versions do and play only on a personal computer. New releases can’t be rented online, just purchased.
Yeah, you gotta love that: pay twice as much for what is arguably less flexibility. For fifteen bucks, I can own a physical disk that plays on the machine connected to my television, works on a portable device, or plays via the DVD drive on my laptop. Or, for thirty bucks, I can download a product that, uh, plays only on my computer. Oh, and you can only access content through Movielink and CinemaNow. It just gets better, by the way. This is the bright red message that displays front and center on the Movielink homepage**:
Sorry, but as of May 2, 2005, Movielink no longer supports Windows 98 and ME operating systems.
Movielink also does not support Mac or Linux.
In order to enjoy the Movielink service, you must use Windows 2000 or XP, which support certain technologies we utilize for downloading movies.
I think it’s safe to assume it doesn’t work with Firefox, either, so I’m a double-no. However, it’s great with Internet Explorer 5.0 or higher. Makes one wonder what happens when the new IE is released. Anything this specialized will surely break in the new browser (or, worse, be designed to work exclusively with the new browser, shutting out all those who don’t upgrade for whatever reason). CinemaNow also requires a Windows-based system.
There is no reason to limit your service in this manner except cluelessness. It doesn’t bode well for the secret sauce known as DRM — since the Sony debacle, I don’t have a lot of faith in the majors’ abilities to protect themselves. Somehow, innocent consumers get caught in the crossfire when this happens.
I know, I know, piracy is a real concern, but here’s a little secret: the early adopters you’re trying to reach? A lot of them use Firefox and more than a few use Macs. Cutting-edge consumers rarely used Internet Explorer. Take my word for it.
Getting back to the price, think of the extra cost as sort of like the “convenience fee” you pay to Ticketmaster. Or to put it another way, the consumer is getting gouged for the privilege of being an early adopter:
[Movielink Chief Executive James] Ramo said download-to-own movies would sell for $20 to $30 up to double the $15 that discount retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. charge for DVDs, with downloads of classic titles for $10 to $17. He said the premium reflected the convenience of the service and the flexibility to transfer the digital download to two computers, as well as the ability to create a backup DVD that also would play on computers running Microsoft Corp.’s Windows operating system.
Yes, consumer, you do all the work and pay more for the privilege. Unless I’m misreading the article and Movielink will be sending someone to your house to do the downloading and DVD burning. If I had a Windows machine, I might consider paying extra for that level of service.
Oh, by the way, there’s one more twist (because we are talking about the movies): you need to know which studio is affiliated with which service. Makes it even more fun for the consumer. Here’s a primer, courtesy of the Washington Post:
Warner Bros., Universal Pictures, Sony Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox and MGM will offer some first-run and older titles on Movielink. New films will be priced similar to DVDs _ between $20 and $30 _ while older titles will sell for $10 to $20.
In a separate announcement, Sony and Lionsgate said they will sell films through the CinemaNow site.
Films from The Walt Disney Co. will not be available, although both services say talks are ongoing.
In truth, it’s going to take the full staff of the Medialoper Research Labs to decode the ins and outs of downloadable movies. The project has already been assigned to an intern, but we may need up to three dozen full-time staff to figure this one out.
So why do people steal movies? Because the theater-going experience ain’t what it used to be. Because renting DVDs, even with convenient services like Netflix, isn’t as flexible as it could be. Because the studios are so interested in pleasing DVD retailers, who rely on the studios — not the other way around — that they can’t be bothered to listen to what consumers are saying.
And because people are just plain tired of waiting for the movie industry to catch up to reality.
* – Also known as the people you don’t want to piss off too much.
** – Totally off-topic, of course, but having a note that dates back to May 2005 (at a minimum) displayed prominently on your homepage doesn’t create a “timely” image.