Viewing Media MY Way

27 05 2008

Courtesy of answer.comWell, not MY way exactly. But OUR way.

One of my favorite Mac geeky type blogs is Adam Christenson’s MacCast. Adam spends a chunk of time giving us Mac news, and then answers Mac questions from his huge audience (most of them ask questions that I couldn’t even conceive of, much less know that I don’t know the answer). Along the way, he often gets into larger issues.

On the May 11, 2008 show, Adam talked about how people use their Netflix accounts, versus how they use the Apple TV. This led to the conclusion that many people watch their films in many ways. I’m going to try and expand on this excellent discussion (to hear Adam talk about this just zoom on over to the archive page for that MacCast).

The basic thrust of Adam’s argument was that he (and others) don’t download everything onto their Apple TV, just the impulse rentals. Netflix was for things that he didn’t mind waiting around a day or so for. And buying DVDs was for movies that he really wanted to own.

Now, I would add a few other methods of watching films. For one, there is the fanciful idea of actually going to a theater and seeing the film on a big screen, with film or digital projection. I’d also add in watching films on pay or free television (that is, without or with ads). As a side issue, there is also the VOD (video on demand) model, in which we grab movies from our cable or satellite provider, and watch their selected titles when we want to — at a price.

My point is that there are a number of ways to view films (and, by extension, any moving media, and the smart distributor would try and service all of these means:

  1. Movie theater. For the large scale, social experience. This means seeing the movie more or less when THEY want you to see it, and we have to go where THEY want us to see it. THEY also control what we see — unless it’s in a theater, we aren’t going to be able to watch it.
  2. Buy a DVD. For a more intimate experience. This means seeing the movie more or less when YOU want to see it, and making some arrangement to purchase the disk. That means buying online and waiting for it to arrive (in which the when is indeterminate), or going to a store and buying it. Depending on where you buy it, THEY control what we see — to a greater or lesser degree — depending on what is in stock.
  3. Rent a DVD. This means seeing the movie more or less when YOU want to see it, and getting the disk from somewhere, let’s say a video store. In this case, there is a lag between the impulse to see a movie and when you can view it, but WE can control WHERE we want to see it. THEY control what we see — especially if you rent from a place like Blockbuster, which has a limited selection and may be out of a particular title. While it’s pretty cool to window shop for the film we want, it may not be a very wide window.
  4. Netflix the DVD. Here we give up the “when” until we receive the DVD but then we can control when we want to see it. It also means WE can control the where. WE also control the what – we can see pretty much anything we want, so long as Netflix has it.
  5. Cable/satellite television. Here WE control the where (so long as there is a television in the room), but THEY control the then. We can’t control the content completely — THEY determine which films are available for us to see.
  6. VOD network. Here WE control the where and WE control the when, within certain parameters. THEY determine which films are available for us to see.
  7. Free television. Here THEY control the content — we’re limited to what is on. THEY control the when, as well. Sure, we can time shift, using our little DVRs, but we can’t watch something today, if it doesn’t run until tomorrow. WE control pretty much nothing, and we get commercials integrated within the program as well.
  8. Download services. Here, THEY control the content, but there is no theoretical limit to how many films can be accessible — only a business limitation (download windows may run out, for instance) so, as more content becomes accessible, WE can begin to take control. WE control the where, and there is little to no time lag, so WE pretty much control the when (depending on download times, and whether we’re streaming or not). There will also be a business model where we’d download to own, giving us large control.

There are variations within these eight categories, but you can see that they run the gamut from THEIR total control to OUR total control. So, why wouldn’t we want to have total control.

The truth is that going to a movie theater is, once you’re there, a hell of a lot easier than downloading something to Apple TV. Someone gets the movie, someone runs it for you, someone makes your food and drinks, and then someone cleans it all up after you’re done. There’s an incredible amount of service there, not to mention the group experience.

Despite Apple’s success at simplifying the downloading process, it still isn’t as easier to get and watch a movie on Apple TV as it is at a theater. You’ve got to figure out how to hook up the equipment at first, you’ve got to figure out how to download and then play the film back. You’ve got to pop your own popcorn and clean up the Coke stains on the floor (carpet?!?!?!) when you’re done.

There will be times when zoning out on the couch and popping in a DVD will be preferable to going out to a theater. There will be times when selecting a DVD will be too tiring, so you’ll just watch what happens to be on cable on the moment (or, if you can’t afford cable, what’s on free tv). There will be times when it is easy to stop off at the local video store on the way home from work and choosing something that you can just pop into the DVD and zone out to. And there will be times when you think “wow, I want to watch that Maggie Gyllenhal film from last year,” and the iTunes store will make it easy to find and download it for you (or any number of other online film services that will pop up in the next few years).

[And, yes, there will be times when finding a film online and watching it from your computer will be just fine as well.]

[A final aside — I haven’t even bothered to talk about the financial or technical considerations, which will vary from person to person, and situation to situation, but will be very influential as well.]

The point is that we want to view OUR media OUR way. No one solution is going to solve everyone’s needs. The smart media companies will be the ones that realize that the dumb move will be to specialize in one of these methods. They will realize that the more of these eight bases that they cover, the better they will serve all facets of the market. And the more successful they will be.

[Thanks to Adam for sparking these thoughts.]




2 responses

28 05 2008

One part of the viewing experience that you didn’t mention (I haven’t listened to Adam’s podcast yet) is the bonus features. The only way to get these is to rent or buy the DVD.

One exception is the director’s commentary to “The Fountain”. Director Darren Aronofsky recorded it and put it on the Internet as a mp3 file. I watched the movie again on my 23″ Mac screen while the mp3 played on my PC. (I highly recommend this movie, by the way. One of the few I’ve bought.)

Until the downloads from NetFlix and Apple TV include these I won’t be signing up.



28 05 2008

Good point Rob, though you won’t like what DVD producers have told me — that as films move more and more onto the Web, the extras market will go away. They feel that the cost/benefit ratio will slowly tip more towards the costly side, and not spur enough new sales to make them worthwhile.

There is a model in which these extras continue to appear in some form — the ones that are primarily advertisements for the movie will be downloadable for free, and the ones that appeal to a niche market will cost.

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