Wednesday, June 03, 2009

On-Demand Entertainment

I’ve made the jokes in the past about the year 2000 coming and going without flying cars, jetpacks, and the silver jumpsuits. Please don’t send me any links for flying cars, jetpacks and silver jumpsuits; because yes, I know there are various websites where there are prototypes. Granted, almost 2010 and still not actually available in Wal-mart, but that crap really isn’t what I’ve been waiting for.

Thundar the BarbarianMy prediction for the future has always been about on-demand TV. I imagined that new episodes would still come out as normal, but you could watch them whenever you want. I imagined it would be a subscription service of some sort that is also bolstered by normal commercials, except that the company would have some demographic information about you so that the commercials you saw would be suited to you. Maybe there would be subscription levels that eliminated the commercials. I dreamed up the basic idea as a kid back in the mid-80’s when I got annoyed that every Saturday I would see episodes of “Thundar the Barbarian” and “Battle of the Planets” that I had already seen even though I knew there were episodes that I hadn’t seen.

One of the big, unforeseen problems that appeared to have delayed my prediction coming true, was the rise of DVD sales. It is still coming true, it’s happening slower than I thought; because companies have to be weaned off DVD sales before it will really take off. For example if you go to, a legal streaming website from Fox, NBC, and other studios, you will only see full seasons of older and not-as-popular shows. Anything they think they can still make money on by selling on DVD, they will only show a few recent episodes of that expire as new episodes come out. It is still good if you want to watch current episodes online or if you miss an episode, just don’t expect to be able to watch The Office from season 1 episode 1 to current. The office DVD boxed sets are still making them money.

I think there is some turbulence in the DVD world though; the rental market especially seems to be bouncing around. When I left the country five years ago, it seemed like you couldn’t find a street corner without a Starbucks and a Blockbuster video store. Yeah, Starbucks is hurting, but I can still stop for a Frappuccino (tm) no matter which direction I am heading when leaving my house, and yet I only know of one Blockbuster around here that is still open. Everybody I know has a Netflix account now. Granted, the type of people I am likely to hang around is also more likely to adapt to this new paradigm (Wow! I’ve always wanted to legitimately use “paradigm” in a sentence.) I do wonder though, what this is doing to the DVD sales.

Speaking of Netflix, a subscription based streaming site, has also started to do streaming. I am a bit annoyed that a lot of the stuff that I was looking forward to watching right away isn’t available for streaming yet; I just signed up for their 2-week, free trial today. But what if you don’t want to watch TV on your computer? You just decided that your child didn’t really need that kidney transplant after all, and instead you bought that spiffy, giant, LCD HD-TV! There are already tons of adapters that allow you to connect your computer to your TV. Netflix goes on and on about that on their site. It’s just a step away from having your cable box do all that instead of your computer.

Tru-Blood True Blood adI’m telling you, it is going to be the wave of the future. The only thing I am worried about is the corporate greed. Now, I’m not one for labeling big corporations evil for wanting to make a profit, but just like the bloated music industry, the TV and Movie industry isn’t going to want to be slimmed down or miss one possible penny. I recently went to iTunes to buy True Blood season 1. They waited until the season was over to make it available, so you couldn’t buy a season pass and watch it as it aired. Now that it is available they also are charging $2.99 an episode for standard definition, which is usually the price for the high definition (HD) version. Sorry, not enough money left on my gift certificate I had to pass. I just borrowed the DVDs from a friend. And quite frankly, the amount of money they are charging for digital shows is about the same as what they charge for the boxed DVD sets. The same price even though they don’t have to press the DVDs, box them up, ship them to the stores, and have the retailer mark it up. The point of all the above is that I am worried that we are going to wind up paying more to just watch normal TV.

I’ve tossed around some thought to how this will fall out. Because of how business works, I see the broadcast companies being the service providers you subscribe to. The production companies, the people that actually make the shows you watch, would be the content providers. I imagine the quality of the shows will be much better because you won’t be watching just any old crap that is on. You’ll always have your line-up of favorite shows regardless of when they first aired. I do wonder how that will affect the line-up of shows; will we still have a bunch of sappy, barely funny sitcoms that keep coming back season after season, while critically acclaimed and well written shows get canned? I also thought that maybe they wouldn’t release new episodes like they do now, each episode airing at a fixed time each week. But instead maybe they would just dump a bunch of shows online at once each week. The problem with that is I can see shows starting to missing deadlines like other industries.

I’m sure there will also be some nightmare distribution thing that will go all wrong and screw things up and everybody will complain. But, there ya go. That is what I’m waiting for.


Anonymous said...

The tech's been there for years now, but legally not much has changed since well before the industrial revolution - we're still bound by the counter-productive anachronism of "intellectual property", and it doesn't look like changing as long as the middlemen stay as rich and powerful as they have become by bleeding the inefficiencies of the system.

Daniel said...

I stream Netflix to my giant LCD through my Xbox 360. Gives me a nice, 1080P HD picture on titles that are available in HD. I do have a 10Mbs DSL connection, but anything about 3Mbs works fine for streaming, and anything about 5Mbs will get you the HD when available.